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Distracted Driver Problem Weighed by Researchers, Florida Legislators

Although the distracted driving problem appears to have remained steady from 2014 to 2015, researchers with the NHTSA say there is one area of concern: Young drivers who visibly manipulate their electronic devices.

That’s according to the latest research by federal analysts with the traffic safety administration, which reaches conclusions based on researcher traffic counts, as well as anonymous driver surveys. Analysts physically sat at intersections across the country and observed and recorded driver behavior for 11 hours at a time. Researchers looked to see whether there were visibly manipulating their phones, talking on visible headsets or holding phones to their ears. They also cross-compared this data with the surveys and scaled the data to a national level.

What they discovered is that while overall, the texting-and-driving/ visible manipulation of electronic devices fell slightly (2.2 percent, a statistically insignificant amount), there was an increase of .5 percent total. In fact, 5 percent of those 16 to 24 were seen doing this, as were 2.1 percent of those 25 to 69. This might not seem like a lot but consider another figure: The rate of drivers holding phones to their ears. That fell from 4.3 percent in 2014 to 3.8 percent in 2015. That sounds like good news, until you consider that this still means 542,000 passenger vehicles were being driven by someone using a handheld cell phone at any given moment of a typical day in 2015. That’s alarming. 

Recently, The Sun Sentinel penned an editorial that called on the Florida Legislature to do more to address this problem, which is especially bad here in the Sunshine State. The latest figures from the National Safety Council show that traffic fatalities across the country are up 9 percent in the first six months of 2016 as compared to 2015 – a year that already saw the biggest increase in car accident deaths since the mid-1960s. However, Florida especially stands out in this regard. Auto accident deaths here shot up 43 percent in that six month time frame, which is the sharpest increase among larger states. Even in California, where a greater percentage of people drive, the increase was 31 percent. What’s more, Florida’s rate of traffic fatalities per 1,000 residents was almost double that of California.

Some researchers opine it’s the growing economy and lowered gas prices. There are also ongoing issues with alcohol and speeding drivers. But distraction is a major – and growing – factor in Florida, which was late to the game on banning distracted driving. And even when lawmakers did so in 2013, they made it a secondary offense, meaning police can’t initiate a traffic stop for that offense. They can only issue a citation if they suspect the driver of some other violation. Florida also doesn’t require hands-free devices for motorists who use cell phones and it doesn’t prohibit teens from using phones when they drive.

A number of studies indicate that “Driving While Intexicated” is just as dangerous as driving drunk. Drivers admit they are not just texting, but emailing, checking their social media accounts and updating their Twitter statuses. On top of that, newer cars now come equipped with more complicated navigation systems, and drivers often fumble with them. A driver who takes his or her eyes off the road long enough to send a text while traveling 55 mph has traveled a full football field – essentially blind.

In this case, Sentinel editorial members noted, the “freedom” to be irresponsible while driving doesn’t just affect the person driving. It affects us all. Not only does it result in a higher potential for personal injury or death, it means higher insurance rates. There has been some debate by lawmakers about how to lower these rates, including potentially scrapping the state’s no-fault system and not requiring drivers to purchase Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. But lawmakers could make driving in Florida cheaper if they first made it safer.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Crack down on state’s distracted drivers, Sept. 19, 2016, Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

More Blog Entries:

Teens at Higher Risk of Injury, Death in Florida Car Accidents, Sept. 16, 2016, Orlando Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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