Patience may be a virtue. However, it makes for tragic road safety policy.Last year, texting behind the wheel led to at least 180 crashes in Florida, distracted driving led to 25,156 crashes—surely a low-ball estimate from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. A fair share of those involved texting behind the wheel. But the Sunshine Statehas been too dim to ban this dangerous practice.
With the death toll from distracted driving rising and patience waning that lawmakers will do the responsible thing, local employers and municipalities once again-remember red-light cameras?-embarrassingly have been forced to take matters into their own hands. Lawmakers should be embarrassed.
Several counties in Florida forbid their employees from texting while driving. Mickey Mouse told informed Disney employees that texting behind the wheel not only is goofy, but barred on the job.Judicious moves echo the wisdom of 44 states that have adopted statewide bans on texting while driving. Unlike in Florida, lawmakers in those states were smart enough to be swayed by the evidence that texting behind the wheel is a growing menace to public safety. A recent federal survey revealed at that at least 20 percent of American drivers text while driving. That number more than doubled to 50 percent among drivers 21 to 24.
And with texting comes consequences: Studies indicate texting drivers are 20 times more likely than their attentive counterparts to blunder and cause accidents. In 2009, distracted-driving contributed to more than 5,000 deaths and nearly half a million injuries.
That is evidence that speaks loudly and clearly to the gravity of this problem-evidence that largely has fallen on deaf ears in Tallahassee. State lawmakers have been stubborn as an old grouch. They’ve irresponsibly ignored pleas from citizens: 87 percent of drivers would back a law barring keyboarding behind the wheel. They’ve ignored safety groups: The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that drivers with cellphones are four times more likely to crash than motorists without them. And they’ve ignored the National Transportation Safety Board, which in December called for a nationwide non-emergency ban on texting and talking on cellphones while driving.
Once again, state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican, intends to reintroduce a bill classifying texting while driving is a secondary traffic offense. It twice has rolled through the Senate only to crash in the House. We hope the measure finds better traction in the House in 2013, because Florida’s continued resistance is not only appalling, it’s deadly.
From the Orlando Sentinel