Einstein was right … the day has arrived. “I fear the day when technology overlaps humanity. The world will have a generation of idiots”.
That technology is responsible for Florida joining forty other states as Governor Scott recently signed SB 52. SB 52 creates the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.” The bill prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other text in a handheld wireless communication device, or sending or reading data in the device, for the purpose of non-voice interpersonal communication. The bill makes exceptions for emergency workers performing official duties, reporting emergencies or suspicious activities, and for receiving various types of navigation information, emergency traffic data, radio broadcasts, and autonomous vehicles. The bill also makes an exception for interpersonal communications that can be conducted without manually typing the message or without reading the message.
The prohibition is enforceable as a secondary offense. A first violation is punishable as a nonmoving violation, with a fine of $30 plus court costs that vary by county. A second violation committed within 5 years after the first is a moving violation punishable by a $60 fine plus court costs. The bill allows for the admissibility of a person’s wireless communications device billing records as evidence in the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury.
In addition to the fines, a violation of the unlawful use of a cell phone which results in a crash will result in 6 points added to the offender’s driver license record and the unlawful use of a cell phone while committing a moving violation within a school safety zone will result in 2 points added to the offender’s driver license record in addition to the points for the moving violation.
Unfortunately the new law will only be a secondary offense, which means law enforcement officers will have to initiate a traffic stop based on another violation such as speeding, red light running, failure to maintain your lane, etc. Then they will somehow have to determine whether the driver was texting. I think we can all agree the average driver if asked, will deny they were texting.
The most disturbing part of this legislation is the fact a compromise was reached that allows drivers to text at traffic signals or while stopped in traffic. Let’s start with the delays directly attributed to the use of electronic devices when behind the wheel. Having observed thousands of drivers at intersections I can safely say that just because the signal turns green or traffic begins to move will not make anyone cease texting.
Here’s where the problem begins. Allowing texting or the use of any electronic device at signals and/or while stopped in traffic sets pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists, our vulnerable road users up for increased risks especially at intersections. Drivers turning right on red who don’t stop, or stop their vehicles in the middle of crosswalks are just the tip of the iceberg. Now consider drivers who drift out of their lane into the bike lane, turn left in front of motorcyclists or threaten pedestrians in parking lots while driving distracted. Throw the distracted vulnerable road users into the mix and we have a deadly combination.
As I explain to everyone this is a start. It can and will be improved. Much like our seat belt legislation which was a secondary offense for years it can only get better as we continue the effort to make our roads safer for all users.