We have all known that cell phone usage while driving is both distracting and has caused an increase in motor vehicle crashes. According to the State Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida, in 2016, which is more than five crashes every hour. These distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.
Given these statistics, Florida has attempted to pass laws to combat this trend. However, prior legislation only targeted texting while driving. Currently, Florida drivers can hold a phone in their hands. But using one to text, write emails or send other messages is a secondary offense, meaning police officers must have another reason to pull someone over before they can issue a citation. They also need evidence that the driver was using the phone to send a message. Such measures have had little impact on the rising number of distracted driving crashes.
Recently, Florida lawmakers have proposed new sweeping measures that seek to stop all forms of distracted driving. The new legislation lists several tasks that would be illegal while behind the wheel:
- performing personal grooming
- applying a beauty aid or similar products
- interacting with pets or unsecured cargo
- using a “personal wireless communications device” such as a cell phone
The bill also includes a catch-all clause, “engaging in any other activity, conduct, task, or action that causes a distraction,” to ensure that drivers are paying attention to the road and are not distracted.
Given the broad language of the proposed statute, there are fears that this bill, as written, could allow law enforcement to pull over any driver for any reason, falsely asserting that such driver was distracted. In other words, some proponents of the bill fear that the statute could be abused by law enforcement. As such, Florida lawmakers concede that the bill has a “long way to go”. Nevertheless, you can expect to see significant changes by Florida lawmakers combating distracted driving in the very near future.
If you have been in a car accident involving a distracted driver, feel free to contact Florida’s distinguished personal injury attorneys at Lesser, Lesser, Landy & Smith, PLLC.
Article by Partner Chad Hastings