SOUTHWEST FLORIDA - We have a follow-up to a WINK News investigation. We've heard from a lot of you after our team looked into the state of texting and driving in Florida. It's been nearly a year since the ban went into effect.
We are taking a closer look the those who've been caught and cited, the excuses they're giving officers and the extra dangers they're bringing to the roads. What we found is, drivers who break one law are likely to ignore another.
October 1st, 2013, texting while driving was banned in Florida. It's a secondary offense, meaning an officer has to spot you breaking another law first.
Since the law went into effect, have drivers really put the brakes on texting? According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 174 Florida drivers were ticketed in October, 2013. The numbers went down for a couple months, then, shot back up to 181 by May of this year. Drivers aren't putting the phones down.
WINK News requested reports and citations from southwest Florida law enforcement. We found that drivers are getting sacked with citations for primary offenses like:
--aggressive or careless driving
--failure to yield or maintain the lane
--following too closely
When we first looked into the issue, WINK News spoke with Punta Gorda Police Chief Butch Arenal about the law and how difficult it can be to enforce. "You pull them over, you go to the front window and say, hi, I pulled you over for a license plate infraction," Arenal explained. "Oh, and by the way, you were texting. The public is not dumb. Secondary offenses, as they were with seat belts are problematic for us."
Now that the Chief mentions seat belts - the majority of drivers in Lee County reports were not wearing their seat belts while they were caught texting.
If the danger isn't enough to scare you, let's talk money. Drivers are being ticketed for 2 to 3 offenses a pop. An improper lane change, no seat belt and texting could set you back almost $400.
In Collier County, all the reports of texting involved a crash. One particular driver swerved to avoid an animal and flipped. The deputy checked her cell phone and sure enough, found "a text conversation... with an unsent message still in the message field with garbled letters."
Another driver in Febraury told a deputy he "looked down for about 15 seconds" while texting. He hit a curb and a metal fence before crashing into a ditch.
According to Distracted.gov, taking your eyes off the road for five seconds at 55 miles per hour is like driving the length of a football field, blindfolded. That last guy potentially could have driven three.
We've been getting insight from state lawmakers for the last few weeks. Do they really think this law, as a secondary offense, is working?
Rep. Ray Rodrigues tells WINK News he thinks "the jury is still out on the question."
He said we need two to three years of data in order to compare texting while driving fatalities before the legislation and after. If it has not made a difference, then, he says they should upgrade it to a primary offense.
Bottom line - the law could very well be toughened, but it likely won't happen immediately. For now, he and others are stressing education and awareness.
"I do believe that this problem won't be solved through legislation alone," Rodrigues said. "For example, I believe the decrease in drinking and driving over the years was driven by both the effective campaigns by MADD against drinking and driving and the law. The MADD TV commercials raised social awareness and changed the culture into one that did not find drinking and driving acceptable behavior. We need that same level of cultural awareness and disapproval for texting and driving in order to maximize the effectiveness of our laws."