By Margo C. Pope
The bane of my existence is the driver ahead of me who misses the light change because he or she is texting away while stopped. These are the drivers so engrossed in their texting that they don’t see traffic move ahead of them through the green light. And then, as it is turning yellow, they speed through, leaving me stopped.
Talk about road rage.
The hoped-for new law on banning texting while driving in Florida won’t help me or you when we are behind the rabid texter at a traffic light. Drivers will still get to text then, the proposed law says. UGH.
And the ban won’t be the primary offense, so the driver will have to be doing something else first to attract the cop – like speeding or doing drugs. Florida’s first seat-belt law started out as a secondary offense before becoming a first offense in 2009. Maybe we will be so lucky to see the texting-while-driving-ban become the main offense, too.
The Florida Senate approved a ban on texting Tuesday, but final legislative approval awaits a vote by the House. Gov. Rick Scott, according to news reports, indicated he supports the ban. If the legislation is enacted into law, Florida will likely be the 40th state to do so, according to The Palm Beach Post. I’m encouraged that tourist-mecca Florida may finally take this step.
Congratulations to the two legislators who filed the bills that got this far. State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, sponsored her bill for four years (SB 52). Likewise, state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, pushed his for four years also (HB13). Though both bills are now listed as committee substitutes for the original bills, give Detert and Holder points for persistence.
The fines are small by most standards: $30 plus court costs for the first offense, and $60 plus three points on your driving record for each future offense within five years of the first. But that is on top of the fines for the primary violation that must occur before the cop can add on the texting ban fine.
As the bills got worked over, a posting this week on my Facebook feed from the Today Show included the front of a cell phone with a text on it that ended, “Seeya soon” but with what looked like another word started. A 22-year-old college student in Colorado was killed on April 3, the report said, when he lost control of his vehicle after he overcorrected while texting. The vehicle flipped over. He died at the scene. Colorado has a “no texting while driving ban.” His family went on TV and to their local paper to get the word out that no text is worth your life.
(Now I am going to pause for the readers who are going to say, “It’s my choice to text; personal freedom is at stake.”)
In Florida in 2012, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 256,443 traffic crashes and of those 4,841 were caused by a driver using some form of electronic device.
Will this ban save lives? Maybe, maybe not. There are studies that say it won’t make a difference based on other states where the ban is in effect. But the force of law, enforcement, paying a fine plus court costs, increased fines for future offenses and points on a driver’s record that could lead to increased insurance rates are all pluses in favor of slowing down this dangerous behavior.
It’s time for a culture change, too. A change that says, as hokey as it may sound to some people, “When you get behind the wheel, what matters most is your safety, the safety of those with you and around you on the road. Keep both hands on the wheel.”
Margo C. Pope worked for The St. Augustine Record and The Florida Times-Union for 42 years covering education, city and county government, tourism and open government issues. She retired in August after five years as The Record’s editorial page editor. She can be reached by email here.