Why Florida’s distracted driving laws may not be enough

While Florida does have a statewide texting ban in place, many people continue to engage in the behavior.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Highway Patrol recently launched a targeted campaign to reduce distracted driving. According to CBS Miami, the effort focuses on all types of behavior, including cell phone use while driving as well as eating, changing the radio station and grooming.

It is a well-known fact that certain distractions can lead to serious car accidents. Florida currently has laws on the book addressing texting; however, there are many other behaviors take away a driver's focus. Further, some believe that the current laws are not comprehensive enough.

Current Florida law

According to Florida Law, Statute 316.305 listed below, no driver may text while behind the wheel. The law is secondary, which means that law enforcement officers may not pull over drivers solely based on spotting the behavior. Some critics believe that the texting ban should be enforceable on a primary basis.

While many other states have addressed the use of handheld and hands-free devices, Florida has yet to do so. Therefore, drivers can still talk on their phones either holding the device or using an in-car infotainment system. As a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety demonstrates, the use of hands-free technology can be just as distracting as manually sending a text message. Advocates of stricter laws note that prohibiting certain drivers - such as teen and other novice motorists - from using hands-free and hand-held devices could help to reduce the number of distracted driving accidents.

Other distractions

Laws also do not address the many other distractions in which drivers can engage. Distraction.gov points out that the following behaviors all constitute as an activity that keep a driver from focusing on the road:

  • Eating
  • Using a GPS system or reading maps
  • Grooming
  • Talking to other people in the vehicle

Each of these can be classified as a manual, visual or cognitive distraction, or a combination of those. Eating, for example, requires a driver to take at least one hand off the wheel. Talking to passengers can mentally distract a driver. Texting while driving comprises all three aspects.

A growing trend

Even with the laws in place, drivers in Florida continue to text while driving. The state legislature passed the ban in 2012. Since then, according to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, crashes related to distracted driving have actually increased by 25 percent.

A CNBC reports that the data reflects a national trend. Every day, nine people die as a result of distracted driving. Further, the boom in cellphone use across the country is happening as more motor vehicle accidents have been tied to the behavior.

Part of the solution is to let people know how dangerous driving distracted can be. Anyone who has questions about Florida's distracted driving laws should contact a personal injury attorney.

Florida Statute 316.305 Wireless communications devices; prohibition.-

(1) This section may be cited as the "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law."

(2) It is the intent of the Legislature to:

(a) Improve roadway safety for all vehicle operators, vehicle passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.

(b) Prevent crashes related to the act of text messaging while driving a motor vehicle.

(c) Reduce injuries, deaths, property damage, health care costs, health insurance rates, and automobile insurance rates related to motor vehicle crashes.

(d) Authorize law enforcement officers to stop motor vehicles and issue citations as a secondary offense to persons who are texting while driving.

(3)(a) A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging. As used in this section, the term "wireless communications device" means any handheld device used or capable of being used in a handheld manner, that is designed or intended to receive or transmit text or character-based messages, access or store data, or connect to the Internet or any communications service as defined in s. 812.15 and that allows text communications. For the purposes of this paragraph, a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition in this paragraph.

(b) Paragraph (a) does not apply to a motor vehicle operator who is:

1. Performing official duties as an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in s. 322.01, a law enforcement or fire service professional, or an emergency medical services professional.

2. Reporting an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities.

3. Receiving messages that are:

a. Related to the operation or navigation of the motor vehicle;

b. Safety-related information, including emergency, traffic, or weather alerts;

c. Data used primarily by the motor vehicle; or

d. Radio broadcasts.

4. Using a device or system for navigation purposes.

5. Conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require manual entry of multiple letters, numbers, or symbols, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function.

6. Conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require reading text messages, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function.

7. Operating an autonomous vehicle, as defined in s. 316.003, in autonomous mode.

(c) Only in the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury, a user's billing records for a wireless communications device or the testimony of or written statements from appropriate authorities receiving such messages may be admissible as evidence in any proceeding to determine whether a violation of paragraph (a) has been committed.

(4)(a) Any person who violates paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.

(b) Any person who commits a second or subsequent violation of paragraph (3)(a) within 5 years after the date of a prior conviction for a violation of paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.

(5) Enforcement of this section by state or local law enforcement agencies must be accomplished only as a secondary action when an operator of a motor vehicle has been detained for a suspected violation of another provision of this chapter, chapter 320, or chapter 322.