Distracted driving targeted by Florida texting ban

| October 8, 2013
Truck driver texting behind the wheel

Florida is becoming the 42nd state with laws against texting while driving – but do the Sunshine State’s laws have teeth? From Lord Jim.

Louis C.K. fans remember his rant against distracted driving last month on late night’s Conan O’Brien. (Watch it here if you haven’t already.) “You’re in your car,” the comedian explained, “and you start going, ‘Oh no, here it comes… I’m alone’… It starts to visit on you, this sadness. That’s why we text and drive. I look around, and pretty much 100 percent of people are texting … People are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone, because it’s so hard.”

Florida has joined the ranks of the majority of U.S. states (41 in total) in banning the practice Louis C.K. so eloquently cried out against: texting while driving. The news is positive — especially for a state that hosted 85 fatal car crashes caused by distracted driving from 2010 to 2011; where, until 2009, police officers weren’t allowed to pull over and ticket those not wearing seatbelts; and, where 11 percent of fatal crashes where the driver was under age 20 were caused by distracted driving.

It seems every driver is simultaneously texting, calling, Googling, and otherwise using their smartphones while on the road. The danger is very real, however widespread it may be, and it’s owed to texting’s three-pronged threat. As explained by distraction.gov, the government’s anti-distracted driving website, “Texting is the most alarming distraction because it involves manual, visual, and cognitive distraction simultaneously. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded. It’s extraordinarily dangerous.”

A five-year push in Florida has finally given way to the texting ban. Yet, as the Miami Herald editorialized, “The major weakness is that the Legislature made texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning texting drivers can only be ticketed if they are pulled over for another traffic violation.” Further, the law provides exclusions for drivers “using GPS devices, talk-to-text technology and for reporting criminal behavior. Even more — the law allows drivers to text while stopped for red lights and such.” Plus, the first-violation penalty is only $30.

texting while driving

According to a Carnegie Mellon study, the human brain has absolute limits to its ability to process language and visual cues at the same time. From Vivian Nguyen.

Texting and driving, argues the Herald and other anti-distracted driving advocates, is just as – if not more – dangerous than driving while intoxicated, especially for new, young drivers. One study by Car & Driver Magazine (reported in Pacific Standard) found that drivers who wrote or read content on their phones while driving were “much more impaired and had considerably slower reaction time than drivers who were legally drunk.”

That suggests that even legal hands-free devices still cannot help ease drivers’ distraction. The distraction, according to experts, is more than physical. A 2008 Carnegie Mellon study, also reported in Pacific Standard, illustrates: “there is a fundamental constraint that limits the ability to drive and process language at the same time.” As powerful as our gadgets are, they are just not smart enough to overcome the wiring of the human brain.

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Category: Traffic law

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