Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ban cellphone use by drivers, feds recommend

BikeWalkLee has long advocated against distracted driving (see our 2010 op ed). We are pleased to see the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendations to ban cellphone use by drivers. Maybe it will finally spur the Florida Legislature to begin to take the issue seriously.

News Press, December 14, 2011
[Also click here to read New York Times article.]
WASHINGTON — Federal safety
investigators have declared cellphone use
while driving too dangerous to be allowed,
which may give Florida anti-distracted-
driving bills a push as they work their way
through the Legislature.

The National Transportation Safety Board
voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend
all states ban cellphone use while driving,
except in emergencies. Inspired by recent
deadly crashes — including one last year
when a Missouri teenager sent or received
11 text messages in 11 minutes before an
accident — the recommendation would
apply even to hands-free devices, a much
stricter rule than any state law.

In Florida, two bills have been introduced
that would restrict cellphone use while
driving. One would prohibit minors from
talking and driving, and another would ban
texting and driving.

While the NTSB doesn’t have authority to
impose restrictions, its recommendations
carry weight with federal regulators, and
congressional and state lawmakers. Florida
is one of 15 states that does not ban
texting and driving.

Zak Kearns, 26, of Fort Myers, crashed his
car in August because he was distracted by
a text message. It was raining and Kearns
was looking at his phone instead of the
road, he said. He rear-ended the car in
front of him because he didn’t see it stop
short at a crosswalk.

A law banning texting and driving is a no-
brainier, Kearns said.

“I think everybody would hate it, but it only
helps people,” he said.

Keelie King, 30 of Fort Myers, swerved off
the road the other day while texting. She
hasn’t sent or received a text from the
road since, she said.

A law banning such a dangerous practice
seems like a good idea, but it comes with
problems as well, King said. “I’d like to
know how they’re going to enforce it.”

The sponsor of the bill banning talking
while driving, Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca
Raton, said he is not confident the federal
recommendation would go far to move
along his proposal.

“Unfortunately for the state of Florida, all
these road safety bills are bottled up in a
drawer,” Slosberg said.

Slosberg is a co-sponsor of a bill (HB 299),
along with Republican Rep. Ray Pilon of
Sarasota, that would ban texting and
driving. The measure is assigned to the
House Transportation and Highway Safety
Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Brad
Drake, R-Eucheeanna, but a hearing has
not yet been scheduled.

During a committee meeting last month,
Drake said he would hear a texting-ban
bill if there was support from enough
members and if it was feasible and

Slosberg also is the House sponsor of a bill
that would prohibit the use of handheld
cellphones and other electronic devices –
not just for texting, but any use – by
drivers under 18 and people driving school
buses. That bill (HB 187) also would have
to get through the Highway Safety
subcommittee. The measure would include
a limit on how many passengers young
drivers could have in their car.

The ban on cellphone use by minors is
sponsored in the Senate (SB 930) by Sen.
Thad Altman, R-Viera, while the ban on
texting (SB 416) is sponsored by another
Republican, Sen. Nancy Detert of Venice.

Local backing

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk has
pledged his support for the texting bill and
announced the start of a campaign to
educate drivers of the dangers posed by
texting and driving.

Lee County law enforcement officers, health
care providers and local organizations also
have launched a monthlong awareness
campaign to wipe out distracted driving
this December.

A group representing state highway safety
offices said many states are not ready to
carry out such cellphone regulations.

“States aren’t ready to support a total ban
yet, but this may start the discussion,”
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the
Governors Highway Safety Association,

About two out of 10 American drivers
overall – and half of drivers between 21
and 24 – say they’ve thumbed messages
or emailed from the driver’s seat,
according to a survey of more than 6,000
drivers by the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration.

At any given moment last year on America’
s streets and highways, nearly one in every
100 car drivers was texting, emailing,
surfing the Web or otherwise using a
handheld electronic device, the safety
administration said. Those activities were
up 50 percent over the previous year.

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