Texting-while-driving ban bill could save lives
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 1, 2012 20:03
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked 6,000 people about their cellular habits behind the wheel. They discovered that two in every 10 drivers have sent text messages or even emails while driving, and about half of those drivers are 21 to 24 years of age.
Though the bulk of these motorists said their phone habits did not make a difference in their driving performance, more than 90 percent said that as passengers they would feel very unsafe if their driver was talking or typing on a handheld device. It was also reported that the majority of motorists consider driving to become dangerous when they take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, which of course becomes a very likely scenario when cell phones are involved.
So drivers think that cell phones have no impediment on their driving, and yet when we look at NHTSA statistics regarding motor accidents we find that 3,092 people died last year from "distraction-affected crashes," which are usually related to cell phones. And this is just the number of reported distraction-affected accidents — NHTSA believes that the number could be even higher.
I think that most of us often text and drive but know we shouldn't do it when we are honest with ourselves. And yet we continue to distract ourselves and even have reasons to justify our actions. Sometimes we're bored at a traffic lights and need something to do. Some people live incredibly busy lifestyles use their phones 24/7. Sometimes emergencies happen and text messages and emails that are crucial need to be sent immediately. Then there's the notion of accessibility: Using cell phones while driving is just so easy, why not do it?
Well it seems that this is a question that Florida legislators are asking themselves too. Hence, SB 416 titled the "Use of Wireless Communications Devices While Driving" but more commonly known as the "texting-while-driving ban." The bill, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) and co-introduced by many more, would make texting while driving a secondary offense.
This means that drivers can't be stopped just because they're caught texting. Instead, sending that last text would be reason for an additional fine; the first offense would cost $30, and the second (if it happens within five years) would cost $60, according to the Herald-Tribune. The bill has been met with some opposition in Tallahassee, but according to the NHTSA study, the majority of people would actually support a ban on handheld devices, with 94 percent supporting a ban on texting. That's probably why 35 states have already banned texting on their roads, with similar bans in Washington DC and Guam, according to NPR.
Opposition to this bill is varied, but most of the dialogue revolves around the notion of privacy and government involvement. But when issues of public safety are at hand, shouldn't the government play a role? Sure, we have great initiatives at UCF designed to create safer drivers. Just recently, Miss UCF 2012 Alexa Schmidt launched her "Heads Up: Keeping Your Eyes on the Road and off Your Phone" campaign, where she asked students to take a pledge to not text and drive. These are fantastic programs designed to raise awareness about safe driving practices, but are they enough?
Tallahassee doesn't seem to think so. SB 416 passed through the Budget Committee last week, bringing Florida one step closer to becoming that 36th state to pass a ban on texting, one that could go into effect by October 1st, according to the Huffington Post.
If properly implemented, this bill has the potential to save lives, but even if it doesn't go through, it's up to us to properly enforce our own definition of what it means to be a safe driver.