It has been one year since texting and driving finally became illegal in the State of Florida. Lagging dangerously behind most other states, it took Florida until the 2013 legislative session to finally pass restrictions on texting while driving. However, the ban was set up as a secondary offense, meaning that drivers cannot be pulled over for texting and driving alone. A deputy can only pull you over and issue a ticket if you committed another violation at the same time — for example, running a stop light while texting.
While it is certainly good that there is finally a law on the books, the toothless measure has not been as effective as it needs to be to keep our roads safe. Several legislators have promised to keep bringing the issue up until more teeth are added to the measure, but strengthening the law has not yet gained the traction needed to rise to the top of the heap in Tallahassee.
Most studies have shown that the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increase the risk of getting into an accident at least by three times, with some studies putting the risk far greater. This risk has been shown to be the case locally. While crime is down overall in Wellington, traffic accidents remain a critical issue, with PBSO Capt. Jay Hart specifically calling out texting and driving as a growing problem that has been found to be at the root of more and more accidents on our local roads.
Of course, proper laws and better law enforcement techniques are only one way to tackle the issue. Another is to create a society that places driving safety above momentary convenience. Kudos, for example, to the wonderful work done by the SADD program at Royal Palm Beach High School, which has run a proactive program aimed at stopping the texting-and-driving culture so prevalent among today’s youth.
Then again, while teenagers are often pegged as those most likely to text while driving, they are not the only ones to blame. Plenty of adults have the same issue. A recent AT&T survey showed that almost half of the adult respondents admitted to texting and driving, while slightly fewer teens admitted to it. However, 98 percent of all respondents knew what they were doing was unsafe.
There are many campaigns out there aimed at changing this dangerous behavior. For more information on texting and driving, and how to talk to your teens, visit www.distraction.gov. AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign (www.itcanwait.com) has also been somewhat successful in its quest to get teens and others to take a pledge to stop such dangerous behavior.
Don’t wait for law enforcement to catch up to the culture, and certainly don’t wait until you become a statistic. Put the phone down and keep your eyes on the road.