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Text While Driving May Get Even Tougher

It’s a sad truth of the 21st century that “distracted driving,” that is, the act of driving while engaging in some other activity, is one of the leading causes of traffic accidents in the country. In fact, because distracted driving actually incurs far less legal punishment than drunk driving, the incidences of drunk driving have been steadily dropping with each passing year, while distracted driving related injuries and fatalities have been on the rise.

It’s now gotten to the point where distracted driving is now responsible for more injuries and deaths than drunk driving, but despite that, it wasn’t until 2013 that the most common form of distracted driving, text messaging on a phone, was even declared illegal in Florida. But that illegality comes with some conditions, and while distracted driving can still be a major factor in a personal injury case, it doesn’t help before the accident occurs, which is when it would do the most good.

Secondary Violations

As hard as it may be to believe, while it is considered illegal to text while you are driving, the police cannot do anything about it if that’s all a driver is seen to be doing. This is because texting while driving is, in Florida, considered to be a secondary law.

In 46 other states, including Washington D.C., texting while driving breaks a primary law, which means that should any police officer see a driver texting, they have the legal power to stop them, inform them of the violation and issue a ticket, complete with points if that state uses a points system for demerits.

In Florida, texting while driving is a secondary law, which means that a police officer can only charge and fine a driver for this activity if a primary law, such as driving over the speed limit, is broken. In other words, if a driver is witnessed by multiple people—including a police officer—texting while driving, but is breaking no other laws, the police are powerless to stop and fine that person. He or she must be doing something even worse before the police are allowed to act. Unfortunately, sometimes that “even worse” turns out to be getting into accident where injuries or even deaths are involved, in which case, it is too late; a tragedy that could have been prevented by police intervention has already occurred, and the police had no legal power to stop it.

Changes On The Horizon

Representative Carlos Smith is one of a few Florida politicians that is taking steps to treat texting while driving more seriously. He is co-sponsoring a series of bills that proposes making texting while driving a primary offense, bringing Florida in line with other states around the country.

One bill being proposed is a general declaration of texting while driving for all drivers, while another targets drivers under the age of 18 specifically. This is not the first time such bills have been proposed in the state, but despite rising accident rates, past bills always failed to pass.

What It Means To Drivers

Right now, for any Florida driver that gets into an accident where negligence is involved, the texting while driving offense is one more piece of ammunition that can be used in a court of law if the police on the scene see fit to charge an offending driver with it.

But more importantly, if texting while driving gets upgraded to a primary offense, this could mean the prevention of many needless accidents, injuries and deaths. Right now, many drivers on the road often see—or indulge in—texting while driving, knowing that as long as no other laws broken, they can’t be stopped.

However, as a deterrent, the police being able to pull over texting drivers is going to have a huge impact on the number of distracted driving accidents. People who don’t want tickets will dramatically reduce the amount of texting they do, while those who are compulsive about texting and can’t control themselves will eventually receive so many tickets they will have their license suspended and be taken off the road, just like with drivers that refuse to stop drinking while driving.

More Awareness Means More Safety

Right now, many Florida drivers regularly witness others on the road who are paying more attention to their phones than to their driving situation, because they know they can’t be stopped just for texting. While a good personal injury lawyer is always available to fight for your case when someone else’s negligence causes you harm, we would all prefer to live in a world where you or your those close to you were never hurt to begin with.

Enacting laws that make it harder for distracted drivers to get away with their negligence is a good start. If these bills get passed, you may see safer roads sometime in the next few years.