Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jay Anderson Commentary:Will anti-texting law make any difference?

Jay Anderson.jpg
Jay Anderson, Exec. Director, SAJD
News-Press, June 4, 2013
Commentary by Jay Anderson
Albert Einstein was right; the day has arrived. He said: I fear the day when technology overlaps humanity. The world will have a generation of idiots then.”

That technology is responsible for Florida joining 40 other states as Gov. Scott recently signed SB 52, creating the Florida ban on texting while driving law. The bill prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other text in a hand-held wireless communication device, or sending or reading data in the device, for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication.

The bill makes exceptions for emergency workers performing official duties, reporting emergencies or suspicious activities, and for receiving various types of navigation information, emergency traffic data, radio broadcasts and autonomous vehicles. The bill also makes an exception for interpersonal communications that can be conducted without manually typing the message or without reading the message.

The prohibition is enforceable as a secondary offense. A first violation is punishable as a nonmoving violation, with a fine of $30 plus court costs that vary by county. A second violation committed within five years after the first, is a moving violation punishable by a $60 fine plus court costs. The bill allows for the admissibility of a person’s wireless communications device billing records as evidence in the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury.

In addition to the fines, a violation of the unlawful use of a cellphone, which results in a crash, will result in six points added to the offender’s driver license record; and the unlawful use of a cellphone while committing a moving violation within a school safety zone will result in two points added to the offender’s driver license record in addition to the points for the moving violation.

Unfortunately, the new law will only be a secondary offense, which means law enforcement officers will have to initiate a traffic stop based on another violation such as speeding, red-light running, etc. Then they will somehow have to determine whether the driver was texting.

The most disturbing part of this legislation is the fact a compromise was reached that allows drivers to text at traffic signals or while stopped in traffic. Let’s start with the delays directly attributed to the use of electronic devices when behind the wheel.

Here’s where the problem begins. Allowing texting or the use of any electronic device at signals and/or while stopped in traffic sets pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists up for increased risks especially at intersections. Drivers turning right on red who don’t stop, or stop their vehicles in the middle of crosswalks are just the tip of the iceberg. Now consider drivers who drift out of their lane into the bike lane, turn left in front of motorcyclists or threaten pedestrians in parking lots while driving distracted.

This is a start. It can and will be improved. Much like our seat belt legislation, which was a secondary offense for years, it can only get better as we continue the effort to make our roads safer for all users.
Jay Anderson, executive director, Stay Alive ... Just Drive!, Fort Myers.

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