Florida will finally ban texting and driving -- but why has it taken so long, and how does the new law really work? According to Florida's Department of Transportation's website, distracted driving is a "pressing concern" for traffic safety professionals since 5,474 people were killed on U.S. roadways, and an estimated additional 448,000 were injured in reported distracted driving motor vehicle crashes in 2009.
In response the FDOT created an internet survey in 2010 asking 1,287 respondents to identify the most serious traffic safety problems in Florida. The results: Sixty-four percent of the respondents designated distracted/inattentive driving as a traffic safety problem.
Now, four years after it shared its "pressing concern," on October 1, 2013 Statute Section 316.305, known as the "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law," will go into effect, making it one of the last four states in the country to enact this life-saving safety law -- leaving just Arizona, Montana, and South Carolina as the last outposts in texters' paradise. And although the law passed in April, did our legislators think it best to allow us to continue and texting and driving all summer long?
The new law bans both texting and emailing while driving, and in my opinion -- as a Florida traffic accident attorney who has personally investigated dozens of cases where people have been seriously injured or killed because of texting -- this life-saving law could not have come soon enough; but I do question whom the new law really benefits.
For instance, unlike in virtually every other state, Florida's law applies only to secondary violation; this means for the distracted violation to apply, a texting driver must first be pulled over for another traffic infraction, like speeding or running a stop sign. And the law also does not even apply to drivers in stopped vehicles -- so those of us who grab our Iphones to check an email the minute traffic slows or whenever we stop at a light can still text legally when behind the wheel.
The real winners with the new "no-texting law" are the State of Florida and its romantic obsession with the politically influential auto-insurance industry. As if not killing someone else or ourselves is not enough reason to stop texting and driving, the new law gives Florida the right to subpoena an accused's cellphone billing records and subpoena the recipients of the text or email to prove its case. That means that the content of the messages will be admissible as evidence in your texting and driving trial, which will soon make Florida's traffic courts a lot more interesting.
The fines for violating this new law will hardly put a dent in anyone's wallet -- first-time violators face a mere $30.00 fine. However, second and subsequent violations committed within a five-year period are considered as "moving violations," assessing points to the drivers' licenses, making it easier for auto insurance companies to earmark high-risk drivers so that they can increase premiums or drop them entirely. For instance, texting in a school zone is only a two-point violation, passing a stopped school bus is four points, and causing an accident is a six-point violation.
Florida's legislature honestly stated that the intent of this law is not only to prevent crashes and reduce injury and death, but also to lower "healthcare costs, health insurance rates, and automobile insurance rates."
If Florida is really serious about making our roads safe, why has it failed to join California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, all of which have banned cellphone driving? I wonder, does Governor Scott own stock in T-Mobile?