Texting while driving now illegal in Florida, so just stop it

October 1, 2013 

We stand corrected on the editorial below. A statistic that claimed teenage deaths from texting-while-driving accidents are greater than alcohol-related fatalities — widely cited in media outlets — had been “wrongly attributed” to University of Utah research.

One of our colleagues at the Miami Herald, writer Rochelle Koff, reported this week that the oft-cited study has been misconstrued. Still, the researchers did confirm that drivers on cell phones are as impaired as intoxicated motorists — at the 0.8-percent legal limit.

We cited the now-debunked claim in an Oct. 1 editorial. But the fact remains that the now-outlawed practice in Florida is simply too dangerous.

While the state only adopted the ban as a secondary offense — authorities cannot ticket drivers for reading or sending messages while behind the wheel unless they commit another driving infraction — the law should signal motorists that paying full attention to the road is vital.

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There's a new term for motorists who punch their cell phone keys while behind the wheel moving through traffic: driving while intexticated.

Yes, it's like driving drunk. Operating a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Plus, drivers are 23 times more likely to crash while texting. That disturbing figure should be a wake-up call to teenagers and adults who put a priority on their smartphone messages over the health and welfare of people on the streets. But beginning today, Oct. 1, texting is illegal in Florida for motorists in moving traffic.

Unfortunately, this new law is a secondary offense -- meaning law enforcement officers must stop drivers for other traffic violations first before issuing a texting citation. Think speeding, red-light and stop-sign running and the like.

But the new law beats having nothing on the books at all. Florida thus becomes the 41st state to ban texting while driving, though the Sunshine State is one of the minority to adopt a law that is a secondary offense.

Also unfortunate, the state is doing next to nothing to promote this public safety measure that should save lives of innocent victims from the recklessness of drivers who find messaging more important than life itself.

That boggles the mind. This sorry state of affairs can be blamed on Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed the $1 million the Legislature earmarked for a campaign to warn Floridians about the hazards of distracted driving while concentrating on a cell phone. In a multibillion-dollar budget, that minuscule amount could have been vital to informing unaware motorists about this improvement in public safety.

The National Transportation Safety Board offers additional statistics that should convince parents, teens and everyone that cell phones are dangerous for drivers to use.

• In 2011 alone, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes.

• Thirteen percent of drivers ages 18-20 involved in vehicle accidents admitted to texting or talking on their cell phones when the crash occurred.

• Thirty-four percent of teens said they texted while behind the wheel.

• The most troubling figure: 77 percent of young adults are very or somewhat confident that they can safely text while driving. The human brain cannot process multiple sources of visual information quickly and respond appropriately, yet youngsters believe otherwise. Parents should be alarmed.

And adults are not innocent in this public safety threat.

• Fifteen percent of young drivers have witnessed their parents texting while driving. That's being a horrible role model.

• Twenty-seven percent of adults have sent or received text messages while driving.

Society should not be so enamored of instant communications that life itself is endangered yet here we are. Shame, shame, shame.

Just stop driving while intexticated.

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