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To Ban Texting While Driving in Florida: Ormond Beach Lawmaker Will Try Again

| December 8, 2010

texting sexting driving typewriter

It tends to get in the way of safety. (© FlaglerLive)

It’s somewhere in the range of a mathematical certainty: If you’ve used a phone while driving, you’ve either been in a crash or in a pun-less close call. You’ve taken your eyes off the road for mere seconds—an eternity, on the clock of the unexpected—long enough to swerve off your lane, realize too late that traffic slowed or stopped, or be faced too late with another driver’s stupid move, though given what you’ve just done you’re in no position to judge.

And it’s not just texting. To call portable devices “phones” these days is deceiving. They’re full-service computers, television sets, stereos, atlases, GPS devices, video cameras and shopping malls all in one. Right there in the palm of your, you hope, still-warm hand.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t focus on a single activity like emailing or texting while driving. It calls it all “distracted driving.” It includes those two major distractions. It also includes watching videos, changing music channels or playlists, using a navigation system, grooming, even—to exaggerate a little—talking to passengers. Add it all up, and it gets pretty deadly. In 2008, almost 20 percent of all crashes involved one of those distractions, killing 6,000 people and injuring 515,000.

Put it this way: More people are killed from texting and other such distractions on America’s roads in four months than the entire death toll of American soldiers in Afghanistan in nine years. Yet the outcry is minimal. When there is an outcry, it’s usually against state or federal lawmakers who want to put more restrictions on the use of cell phones in cars. Florida is a good example. Every legislative attempt to regulate the use of cell phones in the past decade has failed. This, after all, is the state where wearing a helmet on a motorcycle is optional. Gray matter in lawmaking is optional, too.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn is trying again. The Ormond Beach Republican just filed a bill (SB 80) that would ban some cell phone use while driving. The ban would include “text-messaging, email, instant messaging, or paging,” but not dialing to make a call, not chatting on a cell phone (with or without a hands-free device: some states ban the use of cell phones without hands-free devices), not using the phone to scroll for that latest Béyoncé song, or buying that song, or watching that song’s video. Lynn’s bill, in other words, is very limited in scope and would make it difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between a driver using a cell phone to make a call as opposed to composing a text: the keys and the motions are the same.

The penalty for breaking that rule would be a $100 fine, considerably less than the average moving violation. The bill has no companion in the Florida House (a companion would be necessary if the proposal is to have a chance). Even if it makes it past the House and the Senate, it’s not clear whether incoming Gov. Rick Scott, no friend to government regulations of any kind, would sign it into law. During the campaign, Scott was all for discouraging bad habits while driving, including eating fast food, but he did not endorse an actual ban of any sort. “I will work with legislators that [sic.] share my concern to adopt policies that address distracted driving, he said on the trail.

Several states have adopted universal bans on hand-held cell phones or similar devices while driving. The states include California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Some states have more qualified bans. For example, Texas bans hand-held device usage in school crossing zones, Illinois applies the ban to construction and school zones, Georgia applies it only to drivers younger than 18.

Texting bans are far more widespread: 30 states and the District of Columbia have such a ban in place, with more being added every year.

Some 90 percent of Americans have cell phones now. The federal transportation administration found that women use their cell phones to text more often than men do. And in the last quarter of 2008, teen-agers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month, or 75 per day.

In an attempt to draw more attention to distracted driving, the federal government is featuring a series of video testimonies of killings resulting from those habits around the country. Here’s one about Margay Schee, the 13 year old from Citra, in Marion County, killed in September 2008:

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4 Responses for “To Ban Texting While Driving in Florida: Ormond Beach Lawmaker Will Try Again”

  1. Bob Z. says:

    One can always tell when a driver is on a cell phone, texting, etc. while following…moving within their lane, early braking, etc., and if you think you are not guilty you are mistaken. The use of portable mobile devices should be banned from use in moving motor vehicles, period.

  2. Barney Smythe says:

    The hell with just banning texting.

    Ban cell use all together!!

    Ban GPS usage also. Video players, too! There is absolutely no reason for any of these things to be in a vehicle!
    Can’t figure out where you’re going, get a map!
    Want to watch a movie, rent it and stay the hell off the roads! The excuse about entertaining the kids is a piss poor one. There is no need to have a DVD playing for a 5 minute ride. Spoiled rotten brats.

  3. Emily says:

    I agree. Ban cell phone use. My niece, who is 7months pregrant, was hit head on by a driver who was texting. The driver ran a red light and my nieces car was taken away in 2 pieces. My niece was in the hospital 3 days because the accident sent her into premature labor. Thank God their was a nurse who witnessed the accident and aided my niece. Thank God she and the baby are fine.

  4. Traci says:

    They should ban cell phones all together!
    I’m about to turn 17 and whenever Im in the car with my friends parents and their texting or driving I get this sick feeling in my stomach. I always want to say something but I dont want to come off rude. I hate people who use their phone while driving because my dad got hit by someone who was talking on the phone and ran a red light.
    There is no reason they shouldn’t ban them.

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