Proving the old adage that persistence pays off, the Florida Legislature appears to finally be on the brink of passing some type of ban on cellphone use while driving, after more than a decade of trying.
But is this yet another example of lawmakers believing that their title alone means they must pass laws just for the sake of doing so?
While some may see a ban on cellphone use behind the wheel as a common-sense approach to protecting the safety of all Floridians, others see it as perpetuating the “nanny state,” where we look more and more to government to protect us from ourselves.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Florida is one of just six states that don’t have laws banning texting while driving, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“We’re going to put a stop to it,” Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, told the Sun Sentinel. “There’s going to be no more distracted driving in the state of Florida.”
Sachs introduced legislation that would make texting or using a cellphone without a hands-free device a primary driving offense.
“If you are texting while driving, you are 23 times more likely to have an accident,” said state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Osprey. “I think the timing is right. I think we are going to get something passed.”
Holder filed a bill that differs slightly from Sachs’, making texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning the driver would have to be stopped for another moving infraction, like speeding, the Huffington Post reported.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety calls distracted driving deadly behavior, pointing to federal estimates that suggest distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes and causes about 5,000 deaths every year.
However, a study by the U.S.-based Highway Loss Data Institute found that bans on texting while driving are not only ineffective but likely cause more accidents, according to CBC News.
The study examined accident rates in four states before and after texting bans were put in place and found that the collision rate increased under the new laws.
“It’s an indication that texting bans might even increase the risk of texting for drivers who continue to do so despite the laws,” institute President Adrian Lund told CBC.
“What they might have been doing was moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal,” Lund added. “This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking the drivers’ eyes further from the road and for a longer time.”
Nonetheless, we can expect lawmakers to charge full steam ahead, since there appears to be widespread support for such bans.
In an AARP poll conducted in mid-December, 93 percent of the 880 Florida voters aged 50 and older surveyed said they supported a bill banning texting while driving, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Interestingly, the results of the poll also showed support for applying a sales tax to online retailers, although it’s arguable that retirees are far less likely to make online purchases — or to be texting.