Thanks to News-Press for their editorial today in support of stronger cellphone driving laws. BikeWalkLee testified before the Lee Legislative Delegation on Jan. 13th and urged our delegation to support legislation to strengthen the texting while driving law.
As our letter says:
"We believe that texting while driving and other distractions is one of the main reasons for the increasing number of pedestrians and cyclists who are killed on our roads, including the increase in the number of hit-and-run crashes.....Thus, it is critically important that the Legislature take action this year to strengthen the texting law so that texting while driving is made a primary offense. ... We urge the Lee delegation to not only support this legislation, but to champion it." Click here to read our full statement on texting while driving laws.
Anything Florida legislators can do to toughen laws on texting while driving or using a cellphone while operating a moving vehicle is a road worth traveling.
The House and Senate are each pursuing an assortment of bills this session that would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use a cellphone or other telecommunications devices while driving and also would strengthen the existing no texting law, making it a primary offense rather than a secondary one. The theory, and one that is usually supported with data from various law enforcement agencies, is young, inexperienced drivers are more prone to accidents — and certainly use their cellphones extensively. Keeping people off their phones and not distracted while driving is an ongoing challenge.
Giving more teeth to the no texting while driving law, weak when it was enacted in October 2013, also makes sense. It is a difficult law to enforce because the law only applies as a secondary offense, meaning you have to commit another violation first. Florida Highway Patrol statistics show the law is having marginal impact. From October 2013 through last December, 2,061 citations have been issued by law enforcement agencies across Florida. Only 117 were issued in Lee — with 13 the top month last September — and 25 in Collier, with just one issued in nine of the 15 months. As a local example, Cape Coral issued just 13 citations and three warnings last year, but there over 3,833 reported traffic crashes.
Our roads are a population of in-use cellphones from all age groups. Maybe the Legislature is not going far enough by limiting usage among young drivers. Maybe talking on the phone while driving should be a primary offense for all age groups. Education remains the priority. The more information drivers receive about the consequences of distracted driving, and the message takes hold, the odds of decreasing accidents improves.
The young drivers' cellphone bill does include exceptions for navigational usage and when drivers are stopped with the engine off. Making texting a primary offense gives law enforcement a fighting chance to work with an enforceable law.
Whether these bills gain much traction during the legislation session, which begins in March, remains to be seen, but they should. The state continues to grow and so do the number of drivers. Our roads are filled with distractions, and cellphones should not be among the culprits.