Steven A. Bagen | April 28, 2023 | Car Accidents
Distracted driving is a significant public safety concern in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in one recent year alone, this negligent behavior took 3,142 lives.
Florida, a state with a large population and a bustling tourism industry, has seen more than its share of accidents caused by distracted driving.
Recent initiatives and state legislation have proven instrumental in spreading awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Still, many questions remain surrounding whether these measures work or if we can do more to combat the risks of negligent driving behavior.
If you or someone you love suffered injuries at the hands of a distracted driver, we seek legal recourse with the help of a personal injury lawyer. Steven A. Bagen & Associates, PA, helps accident victims of distracted driving accidents seek financial compensation and has served as a proud advocate for Florida residents for over 40 years.
Distracted Driving Statistics in Florida
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), 56,736 crashes involved distracted driving in the state in just one recent year. These included 346 fatalities and 2,729 serious injuries. This number represents the highest rate of distracted-driver-related fatalities in Florida in at least eight years. Moreover, it highlights the need for continued efforts to address distracted driving in Florida.
A closer look at the data reveals that most of these accidents involved drivers between 20 and 29 years old.
While younger drivers are statistically more likely to cause distracted driving crashes, any driver can engage in behavior that detracts from their attention.
Why Does Distracted Driving Go Unreported?
A recent survey revealed that near-miss accidents are also exceedingly common. Among a small cross-section of Florida drivers, nearly a fifth said that they had had at least one memorable close call due to distracted driving.
We may never know how frequent these experiences are. Still, the data from reported accidents gives us ample reason to believe that distracted driving often goes unreported.
Unlike speeding, which traffic cameras and other devices can monitor, this wide set of behaviors is more challenging to quantify. We cannot always identify a distracted driver until after a crash.
If you’re in an accident, and you suspect that a distracted driver caused it, your attorney can gather information and evidence to support your claim. Valuable assets in such a case include cell phone records, witness testimony, and accident reconstruction experts.
What Qualifies as Distracted Driving in Florida?
Cell phones are an intrinsic part of modern life. We rely on our handheld devices for innumerable activities, including directions and contact with lifesaving resources like emergency services. However, inappropriately used devices carry risks, as is the case with distracted drivers.
While many consider cell phones the number one distraction that inhibits drivers, the term includes any activity that diverts a driver’s attention from the primary task of driving. Experts classify these distractions into three main categories: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off driving).
Many behaviors that fall into these categories may seem mundane or even trivial. Still, all can contribute to an accident.
Distracted driving practices include:
- Texting or talking on a cell phone
- Using a smartphone, for example, to look at a map
- Eating or drinking
- Interacting with passengers
- Adjusting the vehicle’s controls, such as the radio or air conditioner
- Applying makeup or other personal grooming
- Lack of attention or daydreaming
Anti-distracted driving legislation does not explicitly mention all of these behaviors. However, the lack of a law that specifies when drivers can engage in these behaviors does not give drivers an excuse to dismiss their actions when they endanger others. As motorists concerned for the safety of ourselves and others, we do well to remember that responsible drivers can prevent most distracted driving accidents.
Florida’s Laws on Distracted Driving
Florida has enacted several laws to reduce distracted driving, focusing primarily on regulating the use of electronic devices while driving.
In 2019, the state legislature passed the Wireless Communications While Driving Law, or Florida Statute section 316.305. This law further strengthened restrictions on cellphone use while driving, making it a primary offense. Drivers may no longer hold or support a wireless communications device while driving, and law enforcement officers may pull over and cite drivers for violations of these statutes.
An additional section of this legislation, The Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law, also mandates that drivers use hands-free devices (such as wireless headphones) while operating a motor vehicle in designated school crossings, school zones, and active work zones.
What Are the Penalties for Violating Distracted Driving Laws?
Those who willfully ignore traffic laws and public safety must face the consequences.
Although Florida’s penalties may seem less stringent compared to other states (such as Alaska, which makes distracted driving a misdemeanor), they nonetheless should make drivers think twice about their actions.
- First-time offenders who violate Florida texting-and-driving laws will receive a ticket and a $30 fine, not including court fees, should their infraction involve criminal proceedings.
- A second offense will result in a $60 fine plus three points detracted from the motorist’s driver’s license.
- Violations of Florida’s hands-free law in school and work zones will receive a penalty equivalent to that of a second offense.
Florida is a no-fault state, meaning that drivers must rely on personal injury protection insurance to cover their injuries after an accident, regardless of fault. However, severe instances of gross negligence, such as distracted driving that results in vehicular manslaughter, could lead to much heavier punitive actions, including liability in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Do Florida’s Laws Reduce Distracted Driving?
These laws represent positive steps toward curbing distracted driving. However, critics argue they are insufficient and that the penalties for violating these laws may not deter drivers from engaging in dangerous behavior.
In a recent survey of 200 Florida drivers, 80 percent of participants reported talking on their cell phones at least once a month while behind the wheel. Those who claimed to have sent text messages at least once during the past month totaled 40 percent.
Given the penalties and campaigns we’ve discussed, these numbers should shock us. However, it bears repeating that many don’t consider these behaviors dangerous or that they could endanger others’ lives; they are woven into our daily lives and commutes.
Florida Drivers Answer: Does Our State Do Enough to Prevent Distracted Driving?
Some advocates for harsher distracted driving sanctions argue that increasing fines and penalties would create a stronger deterrent. However, not all drivers agree, even those who have seen the effects of distracted driving first-hand.
In the aforementioned survey, only 42 percent of respondents favored texting-and-driving laws.
Moreover, critics point out that the laws fail to address other forms of distraction, such as eating, personal grooming, or interacting with passengers. These activities can cause distractions as dangerous as using electronic devices.
Comprehensive legislation that addresses all distractions may help create a safer driving environment in Florida. However, predicting how and when such addenda to these laws could pass the legislature remains unseen.
Current Efforts to Promote Driver Safety
In recent years, Florida has launched numerous public awareness campaigns dedicated to educating drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. One of these is the FLHSMV’s Put It Down campaign, which encourages drivers to focus on the road, not their phones. A similar project, the Arrive Alive initiative, uses a data-driven approach to spread awareness about the serious consequences of distracted driving.
We may never know for certain to what degree these programs made an impact on driver behavior. Many factors contribute to road safety, and a complex relationship exists between anti-distracted driving measures and accident rates. Still, Florida’s legal and public relations efforts represent a step forward in combating distracted driving.
These campaigns may have raised awareness about the prevalence of distracted driving, and the state’s efforts to put a stop to it will certainly not end there. However, meanwhile, we still must contend with the real threat of driver distraction to the safety of all who share the road.
What You Can Do to Prevent Distracted Driving
In addition to abiding by state laws that prohibit texting and hands-on cellphone use, drivers should strive to educate themselves and others about the dangers of distracted driving and encourage safe behavior as passengers in others’ vehicles. If you notice other drivers who appear distracted, protect yourself and others and report the incident if necessary.
Even the most cautious drivers sometimes find themselves the victims of others’ reckless behavior. If someone else’s negligence injures you, reach out to a Florida car accident attorney as soon as possible.
The legal team at Steven A. Bagen & Associates, PA, cares deeply about the welfare of our communities and seeks justice for car accident victims. Contact us today at (800) 800-2575 for your free consultation, and our car accident attorneys can identify legal solutions to recover compensation for your losses.