Beginning October 1, 2013, Florida followed a bunch of other states by banning texting while driving. While the state lacked funding to widely promote the new law, digital message boards along the state's highways were slated to light up with the message: "Don't Text and Drive. It's the Law," on September 19, October 1, and again on October 15.
On October 1st, Florida became the 41st state to prohibit texting while driving, but unlike the majority of other states, Florida law makes texting while driving a secondary offense. What this means is that a police officer will first have to first witness another offense such as running a stop sign, speeding, or making an illegal lane change before ticketing the texter. To make the law vaguer, it's okay to text if you're stopped at a stoplight. The penalties are set at $30 plus court costs on a first offense and $60 for a second offense.
There are traffic experts who are criticizing the law saying that it's too weak and difficult to enforce; however, punishing the driver is not the main purpose of the law say proponents of the law. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, texting while driving is by far the most alarming form of driver distraction since it involves all three elements of driver distraction: taking your eyes off the road (visual distraction), taking your mind off the task of driving (cognitive distraction), and taking your hands off the wheel (manual distraction).
According to the NHTSA, 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in a fatal collision were reported to be distracted at the time of the crash, and this age group has the highest proportion of distracted drivers. For drivers 15 to 19 years involved in fatal crashes, 21% of the distracted drivers were distracted by using their cell phones. Furthermore, 20% of teens admit that they have extended multi-message text conversations while driving.
"Really an important part of this is educating the public," said Florida Highway Patrol Col. David Brierton. Senator Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican and champion of the texting law said that the bill has received so much coverage "that everyone knows it's passed. The only question I hear from the public is 'When does it start?'"
According to Stephanie Smith, director of Public Affairs for AT&T Florida, statistics show that on average, teens send five times as many text messages a day as the typical adult. Smith also said that teens are much more influenced by their peers on how to act and what to do.
FDOT adopted the federal program to combat distracted driving in Florida and along with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles sponsored "Put it Down Day" on October 1 to coincide with the enactment of the new law.
The Florida Highway Patrol and other law enforcement officials have alerted their officers of the new traffic laws that went into effect on October 1, 2013. While many proponents were hoping for a stronger law with stiffer penalties, it is a step in the right direction towards safer driving practices. Matthew Schroeder, Broward County curriculum supervisor for physical education and driver's education says that the texting law is 100 percent helpful in making teens aware of the dangers of texting while driving. Schroeder said, "It's not just the teacher telling them, it's the law."
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