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Posted by on Aug 27, 2009 in Safety | 29 comments

Anti-texting legislation update

Knowing that I work closely with the Florida Legislature, Keri asked me to follow up on some info I provided on FB regarding anti-texting legislation. I’m happy to oblige and take the opportunity to add my personal Call To Action.

Over the past three years, several bills dealing with driving distractions have been filed in the Florida Legislature, but none have ever gained traction. This year, such bills may have a different outcome.

It’s early in the Florida legislative season, but Rep. Doug Holder (R-Sarasota) has already filed a bill (HB 41) that would prohibit drivers from reading, writing, typing or texting while driving. Expect similar bills to be filed over the next several months.

Rep. Holders’ bill might become a must-pass item to avoid losing federal highway dollars. In July, New York Sen. Charles Schumer filed a bill that would require states to prohibit texting while driving or risk losing 25 percent of the highway money the state gets. The bill would give states two years to enact a ban.

Holders’ bill in the Florida House and Schumer’s bill in the U.S. Senate were inspired by recent studies showing that drivers are highly likely to be involved or nearly involved in an accident if they are text messaging while driving. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 14 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation banning texting while driving, and others have banned it for drivers with learners’ permits. Six states and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held phones while driving.

I’m all for it. As some of you know, I’ve garaged my bike so I can train full time for the NY Marathon. As a result, I log a lot of miles running against traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to direct drivers back into their lane and away from the curb. Last week, I was running in the “bike lane” against traffic on Tuskawilla Rd, and had to jump up on the curb when a lady in an SUV came a bit too close for comfort. She was reading a booklet, must have forgotten that she was behind the wheel and drove right for the curb. I just raised my hands in the air as if to say, “WTF do you think you’re doing?”

Any bill that prohibits drivers from texting, reading, writing, typing or engaging in any distraction that takes their eyes off the road is a good thing for other motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

The Florida Bicycle Association is working on its 2010 legislative agenda and has expressed interest in supporting anti-texting-while-driving measures. If you’re not already a member of the FBA, please consider joining. The FBA is the voice of Florida cyclists in Tallahassee. If the FBA doesn’t advocate for cyclists’ rights, who will?  Contact info: http://www.floridabicycle.org.

29 Comments

  1. Is there good data on what has happened to accident rates in jurisdictions that have banned this behavior?

    Certainly it would seem that it ought to make a noticeable difference in accident rates but I’ve not seen the studies LisaB mentions. Anybody got a link?

    I DO see a lot of people daily with cell phones up against their ears.

  2. Excellent to see, once again, our lawmakers are creating laws to protect us from our own stupidity and incompetence and protect us from ourselves!

    As operators of motor vehicles (we’re too distracted to actually DRIVE) our behavior has become quite complacent.

    I still have my days every now and then. Thank goodness for us all I am driving less and less these days.

    Try texting or talking on the phone while cycling some day….it ain’t all that much fun.

  3. It’s just amazing that a law must be written and passed specifically stating what behaviors a driver cannot do while driving.

    Why not pass a law that states a driver must keep his eyes open while driving?? One would think existing laws could be used to accomplish the same goals, such as reckless endangerment, etc.

    I think it is a problem of enforcement, not laws, which is usually the case. Lawmakers pass laws that do not get enforced, so they pass more laws.

  4. Just so no one misinterprets my thoughts, distracted driving is a major threat to safety of any people on or near the road and their must be an effort to enforce the law and punish severely those that drive and do these things.

  5. Distracted driving is an epidemic, pure and simple, any other virus, sickness or behavior that kills 40,000+ and injures and maims another 2.9million people would be considered and epidemic and would get billions of dollars to put a stop to it.

    Enforcing laws like this are of limited use, it ties up law enforcement personnel and the court system. In many cases the person pays their fine and goes back to the same behaviour, learning nothing other than not to get caught again. Witness the recidivism rate in DUI’s, driving without licenses, etc. Education is part of the answer but we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results, with limited success.

    Aaron

  6. Aaron wrote:
    “Witness the recidivism rate in DUI’s…”

    Kevin’s comment:
    Around here, a third DUI offense is good for a minimum four-month jail sentence. But it is very rare for anyone to get the minimum. Only in “care and control” cases, where the impaired person was in the car but not driving it would someone get the minimum.

    If the impaired person was actually driving the car that’s good for a lot more time in jail. So the recidivism rate is quite low.

    Isn’t it the same where you are?

  7. I have a couple thoughts on the law aspect:

    1) it does need to be broad and cover all distractions, not just texting. Putting on make-up, reaching in the back seat for a bag of chips, fiddling with your GPS

    2) I’m not sure these laws are enforceable or would stop the behavior through enforcement. However, as with DUI, any distracted driving violation should severely increased the penalty after a crash. That might have an impact when a few teenagers and soccer moms were hauled off to the slammer.

    In order for that to become a traffic justice reality, we have to change our attitudes about driving responsibility. Otherwise the courts will shrug it off, like they do now when irresponsible drivers kill pedestrians and cyclists.

    Penalty-based solutions have an “Ambulance in the Valley” quality that seems kinda wrong. Solving the problem requires coming at it from ALL angles, including, but not exclusively, that one.

    Chris makes a good point about enforcing existing laws. Distracted driving IS reckless endangerment. But I think it is currently more likely to be enforced as careless driving. There’s a huge penalty gap between careless and reckless.

  8. I think we should treat cell phones in cars like liquor bottles or handguns. They must be stored in the trunk.

    If you have a handsfree kit, and/or your phone can be plugged in to the trunk, you’ll be able to receive calls and talk and even voice-dial. I’d rather drivers not do that, but it’s an acceptable minimum.

    But if you’re in an accident, and there’s a cellphone found rattling around loose in the car, it will be presumed that you were under its influence.

  9. Texting and cell phone use are very different types of distractions compared the older forms. They happen with much greater frequency than the others. Stand along-side a road and watch drivers and you won’t see every third or fourth one eating, or putting on make-up, or falling asleep, but you will see lots of phones in use.

    I like the tech approach on this. With tech you only need to control the manufacturers, not millions of individuals.

    Lyle wrote:
    “If you have a handsfree kit, and/or your phone can be plugged in to the trunk, you’ll be able to receive calls and talk and even voice-dial. I’d rather drivers not do that, but it’s an acceptable minimum.”

    Recent research on cell phones has proven the real problem is the conversation, not the physical handling of the phone. Drivers were placed in simulators that tracked eye movements. Those with no phones scanned the scenes thoroughly. Those on HANDS FREE phones no longer scanned; they had tunnel vision. Their perception/reaction times were much longer than those not on the phone.

  10. “Those with no phones scanned the scenes thoroughly. Those on HANDS FREE phones no longer scanned; they had tunnel vision.”

    Tunnel vision is why assertive lane position is effective with moderately distracted drivers (and elderly drivers). These are the ones that come up behind you and just drive there at your speed instead of merging early and changing lanes like everyone else. That’s annoying enough, but a driver with tunnel vision is more likely to hook, cross or sideswipe a cyclist on the margins.

  11. I’ve noticed that drivers on the phone often sit behind me a long time and miss obvious passing opportunities.

  12. I’ve noticed that drivers on the phone often sit behind me a long time and miss obvious passing opportunities.

    Me too.

    The annoying part of that is they get cars stacked behind them and then we get the blame for the delay.

  13. Alex, the Missouri law is really strange. Maybe worse than no law. I’d have to ask the same questions Andy asked:

    Do you suppose that people older than 21 are capable of texting and driving? Do you suppose you may have just given them permission?

  14. Keri – on the positive side one can say that banning texting for 21 and younger is an easy start and a half-way solution on the way to banning it for all. There were some choice comments by state legislators to the effect of “I get a lot of work done in my car driving home from Jefferson City.” So texting wasn’t banned for them. Simply self-serving and clearly there’s no logic employed here.

  15. Amazing!

    My response to anyone (legislator or not) that feels a need to be excused because they use driving time to get work done:

    TAKE THE BUS!

  16. Except Missouri has cut bus and train service and there is no bus service to most rural communities. I say, FUND the bus, THEN take the bus.

  17. Exactly! Traffic justice and safety are linked to viable transit. We will not achieve the first without providing the second.

  18. Hmmm,
    You run against traffic in the bike lane, YOU are the problem.

  19. wrong message thread in which to place that comment? I wondered too about running in the bike lane, but I don’t know the whole situation, either.

  20. okay, now it’s my turn to be wrong! This is the right message thread and I lost track of what window I was using. Sheesh.

  21. Jim, What exactly is the problem with Lisa running against traffic in a bike lane?

    Lisa put “bike lane” in quotes because it is an undesignated lane. It’s really too narrow in many places to be considered a bike lane… but most cyclists think any space to the right of a white line is a bike lane. Running against traffic on a shoulder or bike lane is in it is NOT a problem. Most runners prefer asphalt to concrete and because they run against traffic they can see if there is anyone coming. They usually vacate the pavement for cyclists. I see no reason to be territorial about that space.

  22. Keri’s absolutely right. Running against traffic is a common practice (and the law in some states). In the case of Tuskawilla road, there’s no shoulder but a striped area (hence the quotes). It’s the safest position for a runner.

    Boys, there’s no need to be hostile or insulting in your posts. It contributes nothing to the discussion and significantly weakens your credibility.

  23. Rodney wrote:

    “Excellent to see, once again, our lawmakers are creating laws to protect us from our own stupidity and incompetence and protect us from ourselves!”

    Reading that, the idea popped into my head:

    “Americans Don’t Enjoy Driving!”

    I mean, if you enjoyed doing something, wouldn’t you PAY ATTENTION to it?

    Americans enjoy Traveling In Cars, NOT Driving.

    Hey America! Want to enjoy driving again? Drive a bicycle!

  24. That’s a great idea for a campaign!

    I’ve said for years that people are so grumpy and distracted because they hate driving. It’s a boring time-suck. In most cases, bicycling only takes a few minutes longer but it’s quality time — getting exercise, connecting with the community, seeing things you’d miss in a car, and constantly moving rather than sitting in traffic.

  25. Two tough laws that treat texting like drunk driving — as a willful offense.

    UT:

    The new law, which took effect in May, penalizes a texting driver who causes a fatality as harshly as a drunken driver who kills someone. In effect, a crash caused by such a multitasking motorist is no longer considered an “accident” like one caused by a driver who, say, runs into another car because he nodded off at the wheel. Instead, such a crash would now be considered inherently reckless.

    “It’s a willful act,” said Lyle Hillyard, a Republican state senator and a big supporter of the new measure. “If you choose to drink and drive or if you choose to text and drive, you’re assuming the same risk.”

    AK:

    Texting behind the wheel is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and one year in jail. It is the same first-time offense punishment as driving under the influence — although DUIs have minimum sentencing requirements and the texting law does not.

    If a driver hurts or kills someone or causes a crash that kills someone, the offense is ratcheted up to a felony.

  26. In reversal, highway safety association supports state laws against texting behind the wheel
    http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/nationworld/sns-ap-us-gov-highway-texting-laws,0,7599205.story

    “The Governors Highway Safety Association had come out against new laws banning texting behind the wheel on the grounds that such legislation would prove impossible to enforce. “Highway safety laws are only effective if they can be enforced and if the public believes they will be ticketed for not complying,” GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey Jr. said in July.

    But as more officials raise the alarm about the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers, the GHSA has reversed its thinking. It points out that laws enforcing seat belt use and drunk driving laws also faced challenges, but are now common practice.”

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