Throughout 2012 and 2013, our Panama City car accident law firm followed the progress of Florida's proposed ban on texting while driving. Late last month, we were excited to see the texting ban signed into law. No doubt this is an important step, and it is one we celebrated as a shift towards safer roads. However, as has been discussed in the media and among our fellow victims' advocates, this first step may be a weak one, with safety ultimately demanding a stronger law.
On May 28, The News Herald covered the story as Governor Scott signed a law that makes Florida the nation's 40th state to carry an all-ages ban on texting while driving. It took state lawmakers 5 attempts to pass the ban, with opponents voicing concerns about government intrusion into private lives. Those in favor of the ban noted that texting can take a driver's eyes off the road for 5 seconds, enough time for a vehicle going 55mph to travel across a football field. Of the 256,443 reported vehicle crashes in Florida during 2012, 4,841 crashes involved a driver who had been texting or otherwise using a mobile communications device behind the wheel.
The law prohibits reading or sending a text, instant message, or email while driving. Texting while driving is ranked as a secondary offense, meaning police need to be able to stop the driver for another offense before charging the driver with the texting violation. Originally, failure to wear a seatbelt was a secondary offense, but the law has since been changed to make it a primary offense, allowing an officer to stop a driver for not wearing a seatbelt independent of another violation. The bill does not forbid talk-to-text programs and permits texting at red lights.
Another provision in the bill addresses some of the opponent's privacy concerns. Authorities will only be able to use a driver's mobile phone records against the driver in cases where texting leads to a crash involving death or injury. Drivers, however, may use the records when contesting a ticket.
A first violation of the ban will result in a $30 fine, plus court costs. A second or subsequent texting violation in a five year span gives rise to a $60 fine and 3 license points.
Since the enactment of the texting ban, many commentators have criticized the legislation as weak and ineffective. One such article, authored by a former communications attorney, appeared in the Ocala Star Banner. After noting that Florida has been behind the curve, with 45 states enacting some form of texting ban before Scott signed Florida's own ban, the article focuses on the details of the ban.
Citing the secondary offense status and the low fine, less than a third of the cost of a seatbelt violation, the author writes of people who currently text behind the wheel: "Why stop or worry? The likelihood of receiving a citation is extremely remote and the penalty inconsequential." Additionally, the author suggests that the few people questioned about texting are likely to simply lie since they know cellphone records are off limits absent an injury or fatality crash.
At The Pittman Firm, we support efforts to eliminate distracted driving. Florida's texting ban is a step in that direction, but it is only a step. We will continue to advocate for preventing accidents through legislation, education, and other efforts. We will also continue to represent those injured in Panama City distracted driving accidents. Please call if our Northwest Florida injury attorney can help you following an accident caused by a distracted driver or someone texting behind the wheel.