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Does Florida’s texting while driving ban fall dangerously short?

Reported issues with enforcement and research comparing various texting bans suggest that Florida’s secondary ban is not enough to protect motorists.

In 2013, Florida joined a majority of states in legally banning texting while driving, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Supporters hoped this change would help deter distracted drivers and lower the number of accidents, injuries and deaths associated with driver inattention in Boca Raton and other parts of the state. Sadly, though, recent reports indicate the texting ban may be too difficult to enforce or simply too narrow to produce these intended improvements.

Problematic limitations of current ban
The Tampa Bay Times notes that, during the first nine months after the ban became effective, enforcement was limited. As of July 2014, authorities were only on pace to issue 1,800 citations during the first year of the ban. This figure seems small next to the number of citations issued for less common offenses. For example, in 2013, authorities wrote over 21,000 tickets for improper backing.

Some authorities express frustration with enforcing the ban while complying with its limitations. Ticketing texting drivers could be an easier task if the law did not make the following provisions:

Texting is only a secondary offense. This means authorities cannot pull a driver over only for texting. Instead, authorities must see the driver commit a primary offense and pull the driver over for that offense before writing a citation for texting. The law isn't comprehensive. It doesn't apply in certain situations, such as when a driver is waiting at a stoplight or reporting an emergency situation.

Authorities can only access cellphone records in special situations. If a driver doesn't cause an accident that leads to personal injury, authorities can't obtain records to prove the driver was texting.

Even when citations are issued, they might not adequately deter distracted drivers from making the same mistake again. The citation does not result in the addition of any points to a driver's license, and the fine is only $100.

Reasons for a stronger ban
A study conducted last year suggests that, as a secondary ban, the current law may not offer the safety benefits supporters expected. According to The Huntsville Times, University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers surveyed various types of texting bans and discovered that secondary bans may not be especially effective at reducing fatalities.

Researchers found that primary bans applying only to younger drivers appeared most effective at saving lives; they were associated with 11 percent decreases in traffic deaths among the targeted age groups. Primary bans were linked to a modest 3 percent decrease in fatalities, or 19 lives per year per state. However, secondary bans were not associated with statistically significant fatality decreases.

Holding distracted drivers accountable
When drivers cause accidents because they are texting or indulging in other forms of distraction, whether legal or otherwise, those drivers may be found negligent and held liable for any resulting injuries. However, securing the evidence necessary to prove a driver was distracted or otherwise acting negligently can be challenging. Anyone who has been hurt in an accident that a distracted driver caused should consider speaking with an attorney for guidance during the claim process.