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A year after texting while driving became illegal in Florida, a panel of medical professionals and a review of the state law’s implementation indicate that we may not be doing enough to stop this dangerous distracted driving habit.
It may be time to listen to groups such as the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM), which recently issued a statement calling for several steps to be taken to eradicate texting while driving by young, inexperienced drivers.
The ACPM also calls for more research into the role of texting in distracted driving as well as for more research into the development of effective educational tools, ad campaigns and counseling approaches.
The recommendations focus on teens because they text or browse the Internet nearly twice as much as adults, Reuters reports. A recent study found that drivers with less than two years’ experience are eight times more likely to crash if they use a cell phone, and seven times more likely if they reach for a cell phone.
“According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 percent of all fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver are estimated to be related to cell phone use while driving,” the ACPM states. “Given the combination of visual, manual, and cognitive distractions posed by texting, this is an issue of major public health concern for communities.”
Dr. Kevin Sherin, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County and lead author of the ACPM’s recommendations, told Reuters that the risk posed by texting while driving is comparable or worse than the risk of driving drunk.
Florida banned texting while driving as of October 1, 2013. However, the law makes it a secondary offense. This means that a driver must be stopped for another violation such as speeding or crossing the center line before the driver can be charged with texting while driving.
The Tampa Bay Times said in June that its review of the first nine months under the law found that it is too difficult to enforce.
The newspaper reported that law enforcement officials were on pace to issue fewer than 1,800 citations through the first year of the ban.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given daylight hour, 660,000 drivers nationwide are using cell phones or other electronic devices.
“If those figures are proportional state-to-state and you’re reading this before sundown, that means about 40,000 Florida drivers are at this moment distracted by technology,” the Times reported.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Administration, 44 states and Washington, D.C. have banned texting while driving for all drivers. All but five states make it a primary offense, meaning it is the only reason a police officer needs to stop a motorist.
Additionally, 14 states ban hand-held cell phone use for all drivers, 38 states prohibit cell phone use for new drivers and 20 states prohibit cell phone use by school bus drivers.
Florida does not restrict cell phone use behind the wheel other than for texting while driving.
A texting-while-driving ticket in Florida, when issued, usually costs just more than $100 and adds no points to a driver’s license, according to the Times.
The ACPM’s Sherin, who also teaches at the Florida State University College of Medicine and the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Tallahassee, told Reuters, “I personally think the penalties for texting and driving should be as harsh as those for driving under the influence. The risks are similar.”
It is time for Florida drivers to listen to Dr. Sherin, the American College of Preventive Medicine and many others who believe our state’s distracted driving laws should be stronger to address this serious public safety threat.