Florida’s distracted driving laws are weak, failing to protect motorists or deter violators, and are driving up auto insurance rates.
That’s according to several reports released recently, including a three-part series by WTSP 10 News in Tampa. It’s well-established that Florida has one of the weakest anti-distracted driving laws in the country. It was one of the last states to pass a measure outlawing texting while driving, and it’s one of just nine states to make the offense secondary, meaning officers can’t stop a driver based solely on observing a violation of F.S. 316.305. Fines for violations are just $30 (littering carries a $100 fine), and they don’t result in any points on one’s driver’s license.
Approximately 3,500 Americans were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2015, and the number climbs each year. However, Florida leaders aren’t preparing to change that anytime soon, prompting WTSP reporters to delve into their reasoning why.
Lawmakers responding to inquiries about why they don’t support tougher anti-texting legislation was generally that:
- Texting bans don’t make roads safer.
- Civil liberties may be infringed.
- Concerns over police abuse and profiling.
The news outlet approached these concerns one-by-one. As far as it relates to ineffectiveness, one state senator cited a 2010 report indicating texting while driving bans might encourage some drivers to operate even more dangerously because they respond by hiding their phones in their laps and taking their eyes off the road even longer. However, there are many conflicting studies that counter this. One of those was a study by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office concluding the total number of traffic crashes dropped by 12 percent – and injury crashes by 22 percent and fatal collisions by 30 percent – after passage of a tough distracted driving law. That was in a span of just one year.
There was also an academic report concluding texting bans might help to drive down traffic fatalities by 3 percent and more in states that have additional restrictions on novice drivers.
A city in Utah noted a 30 percent reduction in crashes following strict enforcement of its tough distracted driving law.
With regard to concerns over civil liberties and police abuse and profiling, lawmakers citing this argument said lawmakers would be creating a situation where law enforcement could pull you over for any reason, which could lead to negative consequences. However, they were unable to explain how this would differ greatly from the state’s seat belt ban, which is a primary enforcement action. Plus, some at least one lawmaker questioned by the station seemed to be confused about the current Florida law, saying the state already has a primary “distracted driving” law on the books that allows officers to stop offenders, but that is not true. An officer first must note some other violation.
In many cases following a crash, the officer is relying on the at-fault driver’s honesty.
Meanwhile, the rising number of distracted driving crashes in Florida has resulted in higher insurance premiums necessary. The Insurance Information Institute reports premiums nationwide have gone up 16 percent since 2011. Distracted driving reportedly accounts for 9 percent of all road fatalities. Some insurers have cited studies indicating as many as 35 percent of drivers text while driving.
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.
10Investigates: Why Florida won’t toughen toothless texting & driving laws, Feb. 20, 2017, By Noah Pransky, WTSP
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