About time for Florida texting ban

By Steve Estes

It looks as though the Florida Legislature is at long last ready to adopt a ban on texting while driving in the state. This is a move that is long overdue.

As cellular telephones with texting, email, web browsing and endless other capabilities have proliferated in the last decade, the potential distractions for drivers from these phones has become an ever-increasing problem.

It is now commonplace to see cars weaving around in traffic lanes, driving waaayyyyy under the speed limit, or pulling off the travel lane in unusual places so the driver can pay attention to the texts on the phone rather than to the task of driving in a safe manner.

We are reminded of a conversation at the local level some eight or nine years ago when the Board of County Commissioners here suggested that they try and place limits on texting while driving when the issue first reared its head as a real problem.

After a lengthy discussion about the possibility of banning texting while driving in Monroe County, the commission as a whole decided against taking that step.

It wasn’t so much the discussion that was revealing as the reason why that ban was never seriously considered.

Two of the then-seated commissioners said they couldn’t vote to enact a texting ban in the county because they didn’t want to be the first ones caught in the act of something illegal behind the wheel.

And they didn’t plan to give up the practice.

We believe that is why it has taken the state Legislature so long to act on the matter.

No seated Congressman/woman wanted to be the first one to get sent to court to answer charges of illegally texting while driving.

Self serving? Just a little.

But that didn’t address the serious safety issue that texting while driving had become even then, and the more serious safety issue it has become today.

One texting driver can cause a multitude of problems for other drivers on the road as they strive to avoid the weaving vehicle, attempt to figure out in advance where the errant vehicle may go next, or even attempt to maintain a steady speed while the texting driver attempts to keep one eye on the road, one hand on the wheel, one eye on the phone and one hand on the phone.

Many of today’s upper line cars have built-in Bluetooth capabilities where the car stereo system actually acts as a voice-activated phone system, negating the need for one, or two, hands to continue a texting or emailing conversation while the vehicle is in operation.

So since the majority of today’s elected officials can afford to buy vehicles with those capabilities, they are now in less danger of being the ones nabbed by local law enforcement for performing illegal functions behind the wheel.

So the ban can proceed.

Better late than never.

But the one thing the Legislature has not done is make texting while driving a primary offense. The officer must first pull the vehicle over on suspicion of some other offense and then write a ticket for illegally texting while behind the wheel.

In other words, while the Legislature has finally come to its senses and put public safety above self-preservation, it gave the law no teeth.

Creative law enforcement personnel may be able to get errant drivers in court for other reasons, but a simple off command to the phone makes it nigh impossible for the patrolman to prove that texting was the reason for the errant driving habits.

Texting should be as serious an offense as any other moving violation, and the law should contain language that allows the officer to prove that texting was occurring.

So while we have some consideration of public safety, we have little in the way of teeth to enforce the ban.

And until we have that, texting while driving will continue to be the issue to public safety it is today.

But good job anyway.

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