Drivers who text, watch videos or are otherwise engaging in distracted driving aren’t just annoyances on our state’s roadways.
They have become destructive, dangerous daily menaces to society in Florida.
Just consider these eye-opening statistics, compiled by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, on distracted driving in Florida:
▪ Since 2012, there has been a 25 percent increase in the number of vehicle accidents caused by distracted driving.
▪ In 2015 alone, there were more than 45,700 distracted driving crashes in our state; they resulted in more than 39,000 injuries and 200-plus fatalities.
▪ Distracted driving was the primary cause for 12.2 percent of all crashes statewide in 2015; it also accounted for 7.4 percent of all fatal accidents and 15.4 percent of all crashes that led to injuries.
▪ Of the more than 45,700 distracted driving crashes in 2015, 35 percent of them occurred in just four of Florida’s 67 counties – Broward, Orange, Tampa and Duval (which had nearly 2,800 accidents alone).
“There’s been an explosion in distracted driving in Florida,” said David Sampson, CEO of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
Sampson added: “We need to create the same kind of stigma in Florida for distracted driving that now exists for drunk driving. We’ve been able to move the needle in raising social awareness about drunk driving. Now we have to do that with texting while driving, and other forms of distracted driving.”
And now it’s time for our state to get serious about reducing the carnage and havoc that’s been caused by distracted driving.
Fortunately, Florida’s lawmakers have an opportunity to get that process started during the upcoming legislative session.
They should not squander it.
Lawmakers should approve two proposed House bills – one offered by Rep. Richard Stark, the other by Rep. Emily Slosberg – that would work to:
▪ Make texting while driving a “primary offense” for both adult and juvenile drivers, which would give police officers the power to stop a motorists solely for that violation. Currently, Florida is only one of five states that doesn’t allow an officer to pull over and cite someone solely for texting and driving; incredibly, the officer must first have another reason to justify stopping the driver.
We need to create the same kind of stigma in Florida for distracted driving that now exists for drunk driving.
David Sampson, CEO, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America
▪ Beef up the penalties for texting while driving, particularly when it’s being done near a school zone or school crossing.
Both of these proposed bills perfectly fit the phrase “common-sense legislation,” and they should be swiftly embraced and approved by Florida lawmakers.
And lawmakers should give short shrift to critics who carp that the proposed bills may unduly infringe on the rights of drivers.
Right now, Florida motorists can freely choose to not wear seat belts if they wish – but they also realize they risk being instantly stopped and ticketed by an officer the moment their foolish negligence is observed.
What’s different about instilling the same fear of the law’s long arm into motorists who are selfish enough – and clueless enough – to put others at risk by texting while operating a moving vehicle?
“I’m for individual liberty as much as anyone,” Sampson said, “but this is clearly a public safety issue.”
Florida’s lawmakers need to leave no doubt that distracted driving is an issue they take seriously.
Too many Florida motorists certainly aren’t doing so – and our state is paying an increasing toll from their carelessness and cluelessness.