Texting. Archived Photo. Conspiracy Talk News

FLORIDA (Conspiracy Talk News) – Sgt. Mark Wysocky, of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), says it’s difficult to separate drivers who are texting or drunk driving.

The two zigzag, accelerate and brake without an obvious reason and get too close to other vehicles. And they also endanger their lives and those of others.

“There goes one,” he says, as a woman passes by quickly. But even though he saw her texting, he could not fine her, because state statutes do not allow it, unless the driver has committed another major infraction.

Florida, where some of the most dangerous roads in the country are located, is one of the last states that does not completely prohibit texting while driving. But the Legislature will soon take a bill into consideration for that purpose, although the studies contradict whether the ban has any effect.

At this time, Florida law states that if the driver of a non-commercial vehicle textes while driving, it is a secondary offence, meaning that the police must identify another infraction, such as speeding or improper path change, to fine the driver for texting. 

The bill would make texting a primary violation.

The first fine would be $30, plus court costs, but would not add points to the license. Previous attempts to approve such a law have failed, but this project has the support of legislative leaders now.

Forty-three states already consider texting while driving a primary infraction. Three states, in addition to Florida, consider it a secondary infraction: Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. 

There is no state law on texting in Arizona, Montana and, for non-commercial drivers age 22 and older, in Missouri.

The federal government estimates that in 2015, accidents due to texting and other situations in which the driver is distracted caused the death of 3,500 people throughout the country – at a rate of more than nine per day – and injured more than 400,000. Florida state trooper Carlos Rosario was seriously injured in March when, according to investigators, a driver texting at the wheel hit him while working along a highway in Miami.

Rosario spent two months in the hospital, where he underwent several operations to repair injuries to the face, spine and legs. The patrolman will not be able to work until at least the end of 2018. The driver, Hugo Olivares, was sentenced to five years of probation on December 20th.

“You see it every day, texting behind the wheel has become part of our culture,” said Democratic state representative Emily Slosberg, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Slosberg was seriously injured in a traffic accident in 1996 caused by a driver who drove negligently, and who killed her twin sister, Dori, and four other teenagers. Her father, former state representative Irv Slosberg, pressed for many years in favor of bills on traffic safety, such as mandatory use of the seat-belt, and has taken up that position again.

“It’s time for the Legislature to send the message that we do not accept this behavior on our roads,” said the Florida legislator.

The state indicates that there were 2,700 traffic accident deaths in Florida this year, but the number of deaths related to texting behind the wheel is not known. Based on the law in force, only about one in three drivers per day are fined for texting while driving.

According to statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), five of the seven states where texting behind the wheel is not a primary offense had in 2016 a rate of deaths on the road above the national average. Ohio and Nebraska were below average; South Dakota and Missouri were slightly above. Florida, Montana and Arizona were tied for ninth place with the highest number of deaths.

The IIHS affirms that its studies also indicate that the states where the prohibition is implemented do not experience a drop in accidents, although the surveillance information shows that the number of drivers that textes behind the wheel is substantially reduced. Jessica Ciccchino, vice president of Investigations of the entity, said that the reasons for this are not known, and that maybe the texting drivers put their phones lower, where they can not be seen. But that makes them take more time out of the road, which increases the danger.

However, a study by the University of Alabama in 2014 showed a 3 percent drop in road deaths in states where texting was completely prohibited at the wheel, and the results were even better among young drivers.

Those who oppose the ban are usually in two camps: first, the libertarians, who say that the laws in force are sufficient if texting behind the wheel leads to zigzagging, getting too close to other vehicles and other dangers, situations for that the law already contemplates fines.

Minorities fear that a ban could lead to cases of racial characterization. Florida state Senator Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the law would save lives but is concerned that some policemen will mostly stop black drivers. If the law is passed, Thurston wants them to collect statistics to ensure that minorities are not disproportionately penalized.

A study by the American Civil Liberties Union showed that after Florida became a primary driver in 2009 without a seat belt, black drivers were much more likely to be fined than whites, although studies have shown that Black drivers were slightly less likely to drive with their belts on.

“It’s disappointing, but the reality in some communities is that it’s a problem,” said Thurston, who is African-American.

At a Florida Turnpike rest area near Fort Lauderdale, retired insurance salesman Steve Josephson said he supports the bill because many distracted drivers have been on the verge of hitting him and he’s sick of not being able to move forward when other drivers are answering the phone when the light changes to green. Josephson says he does not text while driving.

The gardener Francisco Martinez is not sure of supporting the ban, but said he stopped texting and driving 11 months ago, after his first child was born.

“But it’s tempting, particularly when someone tries to contact you,” he said.

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