Thursday, May 23, 2019

BikeWalkLee: The next step against distracted driving

BikeWalkLee Column
The News-Press, May 23, 2019
by Ken Gooderham

‘You can’t always get what you want, but you just might find you get what you need.’

With apologies to the Rolling Stones, that’s the feeling among many bike/ped safety advocates in the wake of the 2019 Florida Legislature. They’re happy that a bill to make texting (and more) while driving a primary offense (explanation to follow), but disappointed it did not go as far as originally proposed.

Some background: Florida Statutes currently ban texting while driving as a secondary offense – meaning a police officer cannot pull you over if he observes you texting, but can cite you for a violation if you are stopped for other violations AND discovered to be texting while driving on top of that.

It was one of a dwindling handful of states who did not make this a primary offense, with some jurisdictions going after not only drivers using a handheld device while under way and all forms of distracted driving – such as eating, grooming, reading and more. The logic here being it wasn’t the instrument of distraction that was the problem – it was the distraction itself, whatever the bright shiny object causing it.

For a while during the legislative sessions just past, it seemed as though Florida might join those ranks and tackle distractions overall rather than just texting. Alas, as is often the case with sausage-making in Tallahassee, some good ingredients were left out of the final product and the bill that finally won approval just elevated texting to a primary offense. Gov. DeSantis signed the bill May 17, and it will take effect in October (with some phase-in time expected).

Besides the switch to make texting a primary offense, the bill also targets use of any handheld wireless device (phone, laptop, tablet, etc.) in a school or work zone, making that a primary offense. Students and construction workers have enough to worry about from traffic alone… let alone from drivers who are not paying proper attention.

Chris Zuppa | Times
The bottom line: This bill is another step in the process, and a good one. Just as the original law laid the groundwork for this action, we can hope that this new law will eventually help make the case to a future Legislature to kick it up another notch and tackle distracted driving in all its forms.

The fact that the secondary-enforcement law still got a lot of motorists to stop texting and start driving is heartening. Of the 1,671 violations of the law cited in 2018, only 39 were for a second (or more) violation of the statute – so the vast majority of those busted for texting apparently took the hint and put down the phone (at least for a while).

We can hope the new bill has a similar impact, and that as it is enforced the prudence of banning distracted driving overall becomes more politically palatable – if not inevitable.

You can also be sure that the broad coalition that pushed for this bill this session will be back in front of their state representatives as the next session takes form to keep the issue of bike/ped safety in the forefront. Florida’s poor ranking nationwide in bike/ped safety coupled with its continued growth is a disaster in the making if distracted drivers are not reminded of their responsibilities (and liabilities) in helping to make our roadways safer.

Bike to Work Day

You probably missed Bike to Work Day last Friday. That’s when most of the country designates a day to encourage people to leave their cars in the garage and try biking to the office.

It’s a great idea, certainly apropos to our ease of riding and temperate climate. However, the third Friday in May is not exactly an ideal time to make the case for business biking. It works well in other areas of the country that are shaking off the winter chills and spring showers… but in Southwest Florida, May usually marks the transition to heat, humidity and the rainy season – all reasons people get off their bikes, rather than getting on. (That’s one reason Florida marks March as National Bike Month, rather than May as on the national level.)

Missing Bike to Work Day doesn’t mean you can’t bike to work throughout the year here. But it does mean that doing so takes either a forgiving workplace or a number of plans and preparations to make the process survivable. It also doesn’t mean either/or – either bike all the time or not at all. Some workdays may work well with cycling in, other may not. Even leaving the car at home only one day a week is still better than nothing – and it could be a good way to shake up your routine positively.

A study by the League of American Bicyclists shows bike commuting is on the rise nationwide – with some of the municipal leaders (such as Washington, DC, and New Orleans) found in places not always known for cool climates. It can be done, apparently… it just may not be as easy for cyclists.

So what if you missed Bike to Work Day last Friday. Doesn’t mean you can’t bike to work today..


Ready to ride or run? 

Run? Memorial Day offers two 5Ks – Sandoval in Cape Coral and SNIP Collier in Naples; and for details.

Ride? Lots of Critical Mass events upcoming: Saturday is the downtown Slow Roll in Fort Myers, followed by the Cape Coral night ride on May 31 and the Southwest Florida night ride June 7. Lights are required for night rides and helmets are recommended; details at Looking for summer activities for your kids? The first week-long Wheel Lee Fun camp kicks off June 10. Details at 

Both? Upcoming events include:
  • Sunday, June 2: 33rd Annual Fitness Challenge Triathlon, Naples (
  • Sunday, June 9: Heartland Sprint and Olympic Tri, Sebring (
  • Sunday, June 23: Sirens Sprint Tri, Sarasota (
  • Registration is open for this year’s Galloway Captiva Tri on Sept. 7-8, which offers a new format this go-round with the sprint race on Saturday morning and the kids’ events Sunday morning. Details at
  • Willing to drive? Check or for tris around the state.


Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at 


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