texting-while-drivingThe time is now for Florida’s Legislature to act. Let’s work together to stop texting and driving. The message is simple and we can make it clear: put the phone down and don’t text while you drive. You may think it only takes a second. Maybe you feel too busy to pull off to the side of the road. Really, the thought goes, what would it hurt? The answer: In 2011 texting surpassed alcohol as the leading contributing factor in teen driving deaths.

The next Legislative session in Tallahassee begins in less than a month and once again there is discussion that texting and driving are a deadly mix. In fact, for the fourth straight year, a bill banning texting and driving is being proposed. Senate leaders have generally supported the ban and this year the tea leaves indicate the House will take up the cause as well. It is reported that Florida is one of only five states without some sort of restriction on texting behind the wheel. The proposed bill sets the cost of the citation at $30. It would still allow texting in a parked car and the use of GPS while moving. These restrictions are not overburdening or intrusive. The monetary fine, considered low to some observers, would be the first step to having people think before thumbing away replies to friends.

We have seen pictures of crushed cars and heard stories of final texted words of teens never to be heard from again. These tragedies touch us, as they are preventable. The argument that a texting bill is too much government meddling is far outweighed by the legitimate public purpose of saving lives. After all, we are told to wear seatbelts, and 8 out of 10 of us do. We have laws forbidding driving while intoxicated, and clearly these laws impose standards on us to protect us as well as those in our path. It is a proven fact that wearing a seat belt reduces injuries and saves lives and driving while impaired dramatically increases the risk of accident and death. It is also a sad fact that being distracted while texting and driving leads to more accidents than alcohol use. We are also limited in the speeds we can drive and each of us is required to carry car insurance. Let’s follow these examples and outlaw texting and driving. If it saves only one life it is worth it.

Imposing statutory mandates for driver safety has occurred for the last 45 years and is shown to be effective. Traffic fatalities dropped by more than 90 percent since 1966 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System. The outcome – 140,000 fewer deaths last year alone, is admirable – but we can do more. New laws are needed to stop texting and other forms of distracted driving, and with the track record of other legislation showing that unified action and clear laws forbidding and/or requiring certain conduct will save lives, banning texting while driving is simply the right thing to do. Texting while driving is as hazardous as driving after having four beers, it’s six times more likely to cause an accident than driving while intoxicated, and here is the whammy – one out of four crashes, estimated at over a million total crashes each year, involve the use of cell phones.

The DUI is universally recognized as a public health hazard and severe penalties follow those convicted of drinking and driving. The legislature has acknowledged by automobile statutes that the car can be a dangerous instrumentality, so minimal insurance, valid driver licenses and registrations are required. We are told to “click it” or get a ticket. The laws that govern all of these actions are arguably intrusive and take away the free will of drivers, but they were put in place because it simply makes sense and saves lives. There is overwhelming evidence that banning texting while driving will benefit us all, so call (or text while you are not driving) your Legislator today. Your effort will save lives, and it just might be your own.