Kevin Bakewell: Texting and driving must stop
Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
There are more than 350 state traffic laws that motorists must obey on Florida’s roads. But the law is silent on whether drivers can careen down the Interstate at 70 miles per hour, typing with both thumbs while holding on to cellular devices. Eyes, of course, are glued to a tiny screen.
It is a strange silence because the death and destruction is so widespread that there is no time for law enforcement to even study or measure it. However, the anecdotal and statistical evidence is piling up and crying out for action.
Nationally, deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers in traffic accidents in the first six months of 2012 were up a combined 19 percent over the same period in the previous year, according to a February report from the Governors Highway Safety Association. Although the reasons are not yet clear, the increase is all the more alarming because the state and national longer term trend is for fatalities to decline. In fact teen driving deaths have been on a 10-year decline -- at least until 2012. A report in February by National Safety Council also said overall traffic fatalities rose 5 percent last year. It's the first increase since 2004.
Texting by drivers is already illegal in 39 states. Many companies are running huge television campaigns to get drivers to stop the practice and are adopting employee policies against it. And it isn’t some new-fangled trend. President Obama signed an executive order in 2009 banning texting while driving by all federal employees, contractors and anyone using government issued cellular devices.
In Florida the public “gets it” too. According to a recent statewide survey conducted by AAA, an overwhelming majority of Florida voters — 92 percent — support prohibiting motorists from text messaging while driving. According to the AAA Foundation’s 2011 survey, more than nine out of ten Americans consider texting while driving to be an unacceptable behavior.
Call, email or write your legislator and Gov. Scott. Ask them to ban texting while driving now while the legislature is in its annual 60-day legislative session. Florida should not lag behind the nation in protecting all motorists from this senseless devastation on our roads.
Set an example in your everyday driving by refraining from text messaging and other distracting activities. It’s just not worth the risk.
Kevin Bakewell is senior vice president of public affairs for the Auto Club Group, the second largest AAA club in North America.