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July 22, 2019

New Laws on Florida’s Books Trying to Prevent Texting & Driving Tragedies

texting and driving

We’ve all been driving down the road and noticed the car ahead of us swerving or slowly creeping into our lane. When you pull up next to them, how often it is we see they have their heads buried straight down in their cell phone. Statistics released from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows year after year the sheer numbers of distracted driving fatalities continue to raise alarm.

Distracted Driving Deaths on the Rise

In 2017, the NHTSA reports 3,166 people were killed in vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Distracted driving can mean anything from applying make-up to reading the newspaper, and yes, for most drivers, involves the irresistible urge to check your cell phone when it tantalizingly chimes on your lap. However, the NHTSA offers some startling statistics when it comes to distracted driving:

  • 14% of all fatal distraction-affected crashed involved cell phones as the distracting factor.
  • The largest percentage of distracted-driving crashes occurs for drivers aged 15 to 19 years old.

Texting is by far the most potent distraction, causing a user to completely take their eyes from the road for an average of 5 seconds. If you’re driving at a speed of 55mph, that’s the equivalent of driving more than the length of a football field blindfolded. At 70mph, in 5 seconds you’ll have traveled almost two complete football fields just by sending “lol”.

New Laws to Protect Florida’s Citizens and Visitors

The Florida Legislature amended Florida Statute 316.305, so named the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law” and the new bill was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. As of July 1, 2019, texting and driving is now a primary offense, giving Florida law enforcement the ability to pull over a driver if they are spotted “using a wireless communications device in a handled manner”. Citations can run about $100, including court costs, for first-time offenses.

Recently, Farah & Farah partner, Eddie Farah, sat down with News Channel 4 in an exclusive interview to review the new laws coming into effect that are trying to stem the tide of distracted driving-related incidents. “It’s not just distracted driving”, points out Mr. Farah. “Pedestrian deaths are at their highest level since the 1990”. In fact, in 2017 alone, 599 pedestrians or bicyclists lost their lives on, or near, America’s roadways from a distracted driving-related crash. As urban designers continue to work to make Jacksonville and other America cities more walkable and bicycle/pedestrian-friendly, it can be the perfect storm for increased incidents between cars and people when drivers are glued to their devices. From 2005 to 2010, there was nearly a 50% increase in the number of fatalities for pedestrians hit and killed by distracted drivers. Even so, drivers aren’t entirely to blame. Pedestrians enthralled with their phones are increasingly putting themselves in danger by not looking up to cross the street or wandering into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

Limitations of the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law

Despite some public worry, an “officer cannot seize your phone”, says Mr. Farah. He also explained it may be difficult to prove that a driver was actually texting. Maybe the driver was checking GPS or simply holding their phone in their hands. The officer cannot simply seize your phone while issuing a traffic citation and may find it difficult to issue a warrant for a legal seizure. “It’s the officer’s word against yours, police have the burden of proof”, explained Mr. Farah.

However, Mr. Farah went on to explain that in a DUI case there are typically punitive and criminal damages awarded to victims. Similar to these cases, when a distracted driver strikes a pedestrian or bicyclist, they may face similar stiff penalties. Farah & Farah has already worked cases involving distracted drivers and, in these cases, would be able to obtain subpoenas for cell phone records where prosecutors could prove a driver was texting at the time of the accident.

Not Worth the Cost

The NHTSA has started a campaign entitled “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” to raise awareness about the new laws coming into effect. But it will always be up to individual drivers to choose to abide by laws and regulations and decide for themselves that a text or call can wait the few minutes until they are stopped. With a citation running around $100, the simple text from your buddy with a meme of storming Area 51 suddenly doesn’t seem worth the cost. If that text causes you to get in an accident, you can be left shelling out thousands of dollars (punitive damages are not covered by your car insurance), losing your license, and possible jail time. All in all, it simply isn’t worth it.

I’ve Been Involved in an Accident with a Distracted Driver, What Recourse Do I Have?

Farah & Farah accident attorneys are some of the best in the business. That’s because we have dedicated attorneys and expert support staff that do nothing but these types of cases. When you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, the experience of your legal team matters and our team has been winning cases for accident victims for 40 years. We come alongside you and negotiate on your behalf so all you worry about is getting yourself better and getting life back to normal. We’ll fight for every penny you deserve and won’t stop until justice is served. Call on our team, anytime, day or night, weekends, and holidays. We’ll be there when you need us most.

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