Representing victims of serious car accidents, our Panama City injury law firm knows that distracted driving has tragic consequences. We are committed to helping victims, but we are also committed to preventing accidents by educating the public about risky driving behaviors.
The Florida legislature is looking at ways to keep our roadways safe and is considering different bills aimed at cutting down on distracted driving. As detailed in The News Herald, a bill introduced by State Senator Nancy Deter (SB52), and an identical bill filed in the House (HB13), would ban texting behind the wheel. The proposal makes texting a secondary offense, meaning officers cannot stop drivers for texting alone, but can cite a driver who is stopped for other reasons.
Sen. Maria Sachs sponsored a more restrictive proposal (SB74) that would prohibit texting and also prohibit voice conversations unless the driver is using a hands-free device. Under SB74, both prohibitions would be a primary offense, so police could pull a driver over for a violation of the act. Both proposals allow investigators to pull cellphone records in order to prove a violation.
The competing bills are being examined by several Senate committees. Sen. Greg Evans expressed concern about the practical realities of the hands-free proposal, noting that many drivers wait to insert their earpiece until a call comes in and that fumbling with the device may actually be more distracting than answering a short call on a traditional cell phone. In terms of the texting ban, he raised the issue of devices that allow a user to send a text through voice commands. Evers also voiced concerns that the legislature may be overreaching, comparing a car to a home and questioning whether it is appropriate to ticket someone who maintains good control while sending a message.
In contrast, State Senate President Don Gaetz said he supports Detert's texting ban. He cited evidence presented by law enforcement showing that texting is extremely dangerous. Gaetz further elaborated on the danger, noting that it would be different if it was only a risk to the driver but, in reality, texting also threatens pedestrians and other drivers. He dismissed concerns of over-reaching and privacy issues, noting the law contains many restrictions on driver behavior when needed to protect public safety. However, Gaetz indicated he did not support a ban on all phone calls.
In addition to the comments from legislators, the Herald discussed the communications proposals with Panama City Beach Police Chief Drew Whitman. He noted that it might be hard to get drivers to admit to texting on the road, although he added that passengers often do report on driver behavior when interviewed by law enforcement officers. Overall, Whitman said he supports a texting ban because "anything that prevents accidents is a positive." He added that drivers often fail to realize how long they are looking at their phone and how far a car can travel in just a few seconds.
We will continue to follow the progress of the texting and voice communications proposals in the legislature. We also want to remind readers that the civil and criminal systems are separate, and a civil injury suit can be successful even when the defendant did not violate any criminal or regulatory laws. A distracted driver is a negligent driver, and a victim injured by a negligent driver has a right to seek money damages in civil court.
Attorney Pittman, a Panama City accident lawyer with more than 30 years' experience, represents victims in civil personal injury lawsuits. If a distracted driver left you or a loved one injured, call to arrange a free consultation.