Crashes Up in Florida As More Drivers Text Behind the Wheel

Florida is one of the most lenient states in the country when it comes to texting and driving, and crashes are skyrocketing as drivers take their eyes off the road.

The total number of accidents in Florida increased by 11 percent from 2013 to 2016, and crashes caused by careless driving rose by as much as four times that amount (even after accounting for the increased number of cars on the road.)

For example, failing to stay in the proper lane increased by 50 percent and ignoring road signs or markings went up by 34 percent. 

Legislation to make Florida's texting and driving law tougher has failed repeatedly, and the state has no system to track how often cellphones lead to car crashes. However, an analysis by the South Florida Sun Sentinel of 3 million crashes found that collisions involving texting and driving are increasing at a staggering rate.

It is difficult for the state to keep track of how often drivers wreck while texting, because unless someone is killed, police typically do not report whether a cellphone was involved. In fact, official records from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles cite phones in less than one percent of crashes in South Florida from 2013 to 2016.

But texting drivers have become so common that police often mistake them for drunken drivers due to the motorists weaving in traffic.

According to Charlie Klauer, a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, taking your eyes off the road when texting makes you six times more likely to crash. This possibility is rising as phones become more prevalent in our day-to-day lives. 

Although most states make texting and driving a primary offense, under Florida law, officers cannot pull over a driver simply for texting while driving, but instead need another reason to stop the car. 

Florida Sate University Police Chief David Perry noted that officers' hands are tied in this situation. Perry's group supports a bill that is working its way through legislation that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

Twenty one states either restrict or entirely ban using phones while driving. Some states even outlaw using cellphones while stopped at traffic lights. 

Florida currently prohibits drivers from texting, emailing and instant messaging on any wireless communication device. However, Florida drivers are allowed to receive messages that are safety related and use navigation devices on a cellphone.

This post was adapted from a Sun Sentinel article.