Jan. 5, 2018
Darla Letourneau, Special to The News-Press
BikeWalkLee, a coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County, has long urged the Florida legislature to improve the safety of all road users in Florida.
In particular, our top legislative priority for the past five years has been passing a bill to strengthen Florida’s laws dealing with distracted driving, in particular the weak “texting while driving” law.
As the 2018 legislative session begins, we urge you to strengthen roadway safety laws to address the growing dangers of distracted driving. Specifically, we request that you co-sponsor the pending bill (HB 33) that would make texting while driving a primary offense.
Across the nation, overall traffic fatalities have surged in the past three years. In Florida, traffic fatalities climbed by 21% between 2014 and 2016. In Lee County, fatal traffic crashes increased much faster — 30% during the same two-year period, and to 43% during 2014 to 2017 (from preliminary 2017 data). According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida in 2016, and these crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.
BikeWalkLee’s Darla Letourneau, left.
BikeWalkLee’s Darla Letourneau, left. (Photo: Special to the news-press)
Most experts agree that the primary cause of the surge in traffic fatalities is distracted driving, increasingly caused by the use of smartphones and internet apps. According to the recent national “Safe Driving Report: 2016-2017” (issued by the insurance firm EverQuote Inc.), Florida ranked the second-worst state for distracted driving.
Recent studies show there is a relationship between individual state roadway safety rankings and that state’s driver safety laws and enforcement of those laws. While Florida is one of the most dangerous states in the country for road users, it ranks as the seventh worst state for driver safety laws (2016 study by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety).
While the Legislature finally adopted a “texting while driving” ban in 2012, it was a weak bill and only a first step in addressing this growing epidemic. Florida is one of only four states that doesn’t make texting while driving a primary offense. Clearly, one of the reasons Florida’s traffic fatalities are among the highest in the nation is that it has very weak driver safety laws in place.
Florida’s alarming increase in traffic fatalities is not only a concern for driver safety, it is of particular concern for vulnerable road users — pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists — who are at the greatest risk when drivers take their eyes off the road.
The national 2016 “Dangerous by Design” report ranked Florida as the most dangerous state in the country for pedestrians. Eight of the most dangerous metro areas in the U.S. are in Florida, with Lee County being ranked the most dangerous in the country. This is a crisis that can no longer be ignored by the state of Florida.
At a minimum, the legislature must strengthen its current texting law so that texting while driving is made a primary offense. In previous legislative sessions, bills have been introduced which made texting while driving a primary offense, doubled the
fines, and provided enhanced penalties for violations when committed in a school zone or school crossing. However, in each of the past five years, the Legislature failed to take any action to strengthen its weak anti-texting law, and took no action to address the broader causes of distracted driving.
For the 2018 session of the Legislature, a bill has already been introduced (HB 33) that would make texting while driving a primary offense.
We urge the Lee County delegation to support HB 33 and work to ensure that the bill is enacted this year. In addition, we encourage the Lee delegation to play a leadership role in pressing the legislature to go beyond this texting bill and address more comprehensively the growing epidemic of distracted driving.
Darla Letourneau on behalf of BikeWalkLee.