Distracted driving is a huge problem nationally, especially with increased cell phone usage. Fatalities and injuries have increased as a result of distracted driving while behind the wheel. In fact, drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident if they text while driving. Texting while driving in incredibly dangerous, as it takes your eyes off the roads, your hands off the steering wheels, and your mind off of the important task of focusing on the road.
Many states that this website frequently are engaged in battles over new legislation meant to impact distracted drivers. Let’s take a look at the legal updates regarding defensive driving in Texas, California, and Florida. All three states have either recently passed distracted driving legislation that soon goes into effect, or are seeking to pass legislation that changes their distracted driving regulations.
Texas Legislature Updates
The 85th Legislature convenes in Austin, TX in two weeks. Among the 200 bills being filed is a distracted driving bill. This bill is not intended to create a disruption or a nuisance, but to serve as a valuable, life-saving measure to Texas adult drivers and teen drivers. Texas is far behind over 30 other states when it comes to passing a distracted driving law. As of now, there is no distracted driving law in the state. AAA Texas reports that last year, nearly 3,000 people were badly injured or lost their lives due to distracted driving, at the hand of 100,000 statewide accidents.
State Representative Tom Craddick is now approaching his fourth session attempting to ban drivers from using their smart phones. In the past, the bill was voted on and passed, but was ultimately vetoed once it made its way to the governor’s chair. The main hang-up is that drivers are sacrificing privacy rights as a result. This session could be tougher to focus on and pass distracted driver legislation, because of the need to develop a budget. Texas is one of four states that does not have a ban on texting while driving.
California Legislature Updates
California has already passed legislation that will come into effect on New Year’s Day. Texting has already been forbidden, but a new law prohibits drivers from using smartphones for other purposes while behind the wheel, unless they’re in hands-free mode. This means that phones cannot be used to access apps while driving, such as maps or your camera. The use of a hands-free device was already required when talking on the phone. The law will extend to the other uses of the phone in 2017. A phone can still be used to slide or push a button to answer a call, only if it’s mounted on the dashboard.
The new law seeks to prevent drivers from using their phones to take photos or stream video while they are behind the wheel. The new law does not impact manufacturer-installed systems that are a part of the vehicle’s operating system.
The bill, authored by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, was signed into law in September. California passed restrictions on cellphone use while driving back in 2006, before smartphones were really prevalent. This is in stark contrast to Texas and Florida, who have not been considered trendsetters when it comes to distracted driving legislation.
Florida Legislature Updates
Florida currently has a law against distracted driving. However, it is in some regards a “law in name only.” The law, as currently written, considers distracted driving a secondary offense. This means that law enforcement officers cannot pull a driver over for texting and driving. Instead, they must witness a driver committing another infraction, pull them over for that, and then can add the texting and driving offense onto the citation.
State Representative Richard Stark has proposed legislation that would allow law enforcement officers to pull drivers over for distracted driving as a primary offense. Stark acknowledges that getting the bill passed could be difficult, as publicly supporting an issue is not the same as supporting it legislatively. Like Texas, opposition stems from the notion that a distracted driving law will remove a driver’s freedoms. However, Florida is unique in that they are also facing opposition from lawmakers concerned that making distracted driving a primary offense could make it easier for law enforcement to pull drivers over without a valid reason.
Also like Texas, Florida has been slow in responding to distracted driving issues. The current law was passed a mere three years ago, only after 40 other states had previously done so.
YOU Can Make A Difference
Change can be made at the smallest levels, and move its way to the top. Much like how sweeping legislation at the state level can impact national legislation, sweeping legislation at the local level can impact state legislation. If you strongly feel the need for change regarding distracted driving legislation in your state, contact your local representative and voice your concerns. Perhaps get involved with a local activist group that advocates in favor of distracted driving safety and legislation. Measures need to be taken to reduce the number of fatalities that are rapidly rising as a result of distracted driving.
However, although legislation can be a strong deterrent for people to text and drive, it is not the end-all-be-all. You can make a difference by not texting and driving, and setting a good example for friends and family. At the very least, not being distracted while behind the wheel can allow you to practice safe, defensive driving habits that can protect you while on the road. From Texas adult drivers to Florida teen drivers, we can all implement better defensive driving techniques into our daily driving habits. For many of us, that involves eliminating distractions while behind the wheel. Even though it may not be a serious crime in your state, the stakes are as high as ever.