The County Commission is scheduled at the meeting Wednesday to consider a resolution urging the state legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense.
Forty six states have banned texting while driving and all but five—including Florida—have made it a primary offense. A Miami-Dade lawmaker says it’s time to join the overwhelming majority and make texting an offense that would allow law enforcement to pull a driver over.
Emily Slosberg, who represents District 91, said texting while driving is a distraction that has contributed to a rise in vehicular fatalities. In July, she wrote to the commission to ask for support.
“Texting while driving has become an epidemic. Florida fatalities are increasing almost 18% in 2015 over the prior year. Teen driving fatalities increased almost 30%,” she said.
Enforcement is a concern for local top cops.
Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley said he agreed with the law in theory because it has, “no doubt saved lives and changed behaviors,” but technology can blur the line between compliance and offense.
“Siri can text a message for you now. How does an officer make a determination about whether a motorist is talking on the phone or texting?” he said in an August 16 email to County Manager Shanea Jones, who requested his input for a report to the commission.
Chief Hurley said he also has an issue with current law that allows texting in a motor vehicle that is stationary because, “it is not considered to be operated!”
“Texting at stop lights and intersections and stalled traffic is the biggest problem with texting,” he said. “The litany of exceptions provides a lot of gray area, whereas seatbelt enforcement is concise. You are wearing it or not,” he said.
The bottom line for Chief Hurley: “While I like the initiative, I think some discussion and clarification is required before moving forward.”
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said in his message to Ms. Jones that he agreed with Chief Hurley.
“There are also other laws like failure to drive within a single lane, careless driving, speeding, impeding the normal flow of traffic, etc. that those who text violate, which are primary offenses that can be enforced,” he said.
“While I admit texting while driving is a big issue, the Florida Legislature would need to figure out a way to craft a law that is easily enforceable for law enforcement.”
The County Manager also asked State Senator Aaron Bean and State Representative Cord Byrd for input. After making a second request for comment, Sen. Bean’s legislative assistant Dee Alexander wrote on Sept. 1 that Mr. Bean supports the ban on texting as a primary offense. Rep. Byrd has not yet responded to Ms. Jones, according to information released by her office.
The proposed resolution to be considered by the county is taken from Miami Dade’s resolution, which was passed last year.
The resolution calls texting while driving a distraction and offers compelling reasons to make it a primary offense. Among them:
“Texting while driving makes the likelihood of a crash 23 times greater than driving while not distracted, according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.”
“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported an estimated total of 967,000 crashes in the United States involving distracted drivers in 2014.”
“According to the NHTSA, 3,179 people in the United States were killed in 2014 in crashes involving distracted drivers.”
“The degree of cognitive distraction associated with mobile phone use is so high that drivers using mobile phones exhibit greater impairment than legally intoxicated drivers, according to a study conducted by the University of Utah.”