As the one-year anniversary approaches for Florida’s ban on texting while driving, many news outlets across the state are asking the question: Is the law making our roads any safer? Unfortunately, the reviews have been mostly negative.
“It’s almost unenforceable,” a member of the St. Petersburg Police Department told the Tampa Bay Times in a story that was published this summer. “It sounds good to have a texting ban, but it’s not working.”
What Distracted Driving Activity Does Florida Law Ban?
After several years of failed efforts to get a distracted driving law passed in the Florida legislature and signed by the governor, a ban on texting while driving finally took effect in the state on October 1, 2013.
The law prohibits texting while driving by drivers of all ages, providing for fines and licenses points for repeat offenses, texting in school zones and texting that causes a crash.
However, the law is one of only five texting bans in the U.S. that provides only for secondary enforcement. In other words, a driver would need to be pulled over for some other traffic violation – speeding, running a red light, failing to signal turn – before a police officer could issue a ticket for texting while driving.
A primary enforcement ban, in contrast, allows police officers to pull over a driver if the officer has probable cause that the driver is texting.
Are Florida Drivers Getting Ticketed While Texting?
Because it is a secondary enforcement ban, the law is difficult to enforce, recent reports suggest.
For instance, an investigation by CBS 12 News in Palm Beach found that only 150 people in Palm Beach County had been ticketed for texting offenses through early September, while merely 1,542 had received citations throughout the state.
The Miami New Times also examined the effectiveness of the law in a recent article. As the article noted, only 352 texting citations were issued in Miami-Dade County in 2013 – out of the more than 50,000 non-moving violations issued in the county during that same time span.
Primary Enforcement Ban May Be Solution
State Rep. Irving “Irv” Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) told CBS 12 News that he was working on legislation that would put more teeth into the law by making it a primary enforcement law.
A study put out earlier this year by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health indicates that such a move could both help with enforcement and save more lives.
The researchers analyzed traffic fatalities between 2000 and 2010 in states that passed texting-while-driving bans. They found no “significant” drops in traffic fatalities in states with secondary enforcement bans such as Florida’s law.
In contrast, traffic fatalities dropped by 3 percent (or roughly 19 fewer deaths per year) in states with primary enforcement bans, the researchers found.
With the Florida texting ban turning one-year old in the coming weeks, it’s good for us to look at relevant statistics and studies and listen to law enforcement officials who are in charge of enforcing the law.
What we learn can help us to devise the most effective means of stopping this dangerous form of distracted driving and prevent senseless accidents as we move forward.