The Florida legislature celebrated the passing of a law last year prohibiting
texting while driving, which went into effect on October 1st, 2013. Florida Senator Nancy Detert (R-Venice) championed the legislation,
having drafted and moved it through both houses, while Governor Rick Scott
talked of his expectation that the bill will keep his loved ones safer
while they are on the road as he signed the bill into law at a high school in Miami.
It's been three months since the law went into effect, and to much
chagrin among the families of people who have
actually lost loved ones to distracted driving,
The Sun Sentinel reports that the number of people who have been ticketed under the new law for
texting and driving is dismal.
In Broward County, only 32 citations were issued in the first 90 days of
the law becoming effective. That's an average of 2.8 citations a day.
The question many advocates for tougher penalties for distracted driving
are finding themselves asking is whether as a society we should be accepting
that only about 2.8 drivers on the roads of Broward County on any given
day are texting, while hundreds of thousands of others are not.
The low numbers are actually the result of incumbent flaws in the legislative
text, according to reporters, and they are right.
Chapter 316.305 of the 2013 Florida Statutes is the section of the law entitled "Wireless Communications Devices;
Prohibition", also known as the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving
Law. It's really less of a strict and swift "prohibition",
as the stern title suggests, and more of a subtle warning of paltry fees
for disregarding a loosely constructed ban.
The three major flaws that are inherent in the bill's text, rendering
the prohibition much less effective as a tool to curb texting while driving,
are listed and descried below.
1. The law imposes a nonmoving violation for offenders
Section 4(a) of the Chapter stipulates that anyone who violates the ban
by typing, reading, or engaging in electronic communication via a handheld
device while operating a motor vehicle has "committed a noncriminal
traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation". Nonmoving
violations in Florida invoke a $30.00 civil penalty payable to the County
in which the infraction occurred by mail.
2. Enforcement of this law may only be conducted as a secondary action
Section (5) stipulates that enforcement of the law can only be imposed
as a "secondary action", which means the violator must have
already been under suspicion of having violated any other provision of
the Florida code on motor vehicle law. The "precursor" provision
effectively dulls an officer's ability to issue tickets and penalties
for violations, and it also explains why only 32 tickets have been issued
in Broward County in the first three months of the law's existence.
It's not enough for an officer to witness someone actively texting
and driving to enforce the law.
Perhaps it's somewhat telling that this is the last very last line
of the code; it's almost as if someone was able to stick it in at
the very last second before the bill went to a vote.
3. The bill does nothing to address the harrowing statistics
Legislators are playing catch-up with this bill. Traffic statistics show
that distracted driving, a dangerous condition in which a driver is texting
or otherwise engaging with their phones or handheld device while they
drive, caused more than 5,000 deaths in the last year alone, and is responsible
for more than 450,00 traffic accidents in the United States (source: The
In 2009, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released
data that showed 16 of all fatal crashes involved distracted driving.
Data has not yet been released for any year since, but that figure will
almost certainly have been inflated in the last five years.
Given these trends, with this law, can Floridians feel comfortable that
we've addressed the core structural deficiencies in our Code that
are causing people of all ages and backgrounds to be
killed or injured in distracted driving accidents? Are we finished now that this law has passed?
We would venture to guess the families of victims who have been killed
or injured as a result of distracted driving wouldn't be too pleased
with the assumption that this law goes far enough, even for now.
*Photo attribute: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
By Mr. Jason Weaver, used with permission.