Yesterday, a Florida State Senate Senate committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 52 (“Bill 52”), which would impose a statewide ban on texting while driving. Similar bills have repeatedly passed through the Florida Senate, but failed in the House of Representatives. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia already adopted texting while driving bans.
The Florida Senate Communications Committee voted 9-0 in favor of SB 52 which outlaws texting by motorists but exempts police and other emergency vehicles. SB 52 would make texting subject to secondary enforcement, meaning that law enforcement can cite drivers for texting only if they had been stopped for another traffic violation such as speeding. Under SB 52’s provisions, an initial violation of the anti-texting law would result in a $30 fine. Further, if the illegal texting caused an accident, the driver would be assessed six points on his or her driver’s license.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Courtney Heidelberg, stated that Florida highway safety records indicate that, of the 171,538 Florida crash reports filed during the first ten months of 2011, 149 involved drivers that were texting at the time of the accident.
According to a recent study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s (“Foundation”), distracted driving is a growing concern and common practice among motorists. The study, referred to as the Traffic Safety Index (“Index”), was assembled based upon data gathered from surveys of 3,896 U.S. residents over the age of sixteen. The Index concluded that, although many Americans value safe travel and support laws discouraging unsafe driving behaviors, e.g. speeding, they tend to practice dangerous driving habits themselves.
According to the Index’s findings, 88.5% of drivers consider using a cell phone while driving a serious threat to motorist safety. Additionally, 67.3% of respondents feel that distracted driving is a bigger problem today than it was three years ago. Although most of the surveyed individuals expressed concerns about distracted driving practices, they also adopted a double standard with regard to support of measures to discourage such behavior.
More than two-thirds (68.8%) of respondents confessed to using their cell phone while driving at least once in the past thirty days. 31.9% admitted to doing so “fairly often or regularly.” However, 57.9% of surveyed individuals felt that talking on a cell phone while driving was a serious threat to driver safety and 66% considered the practice to be “unacceptable.”
Just recently, a Broward court entered an order granting a plaintiff in an automobile accident case with leave to plead punitive damage based on an accident with a driver that was text messaging. Under Florida Statutes, 768.73, punitive damages may be awarded if there is “clear and convincing evidence” of reckless disregard for the life and safety of others. In Florida, this legal standard has been often been applied to drunk drivers. More and more recently however, courts are allowing plaintiffs to pursue claims for punitive damage for injury and accident victims due to text messaging. However, most personal insurance policies don’t cover punitive damages, or they are excluded under the policies, so there are practical limitations one must consider when pursuing a claim against a text messaging defendant. Considerations an experienced car accident attorney will look for include an investigation into the personal assets of the defendant, the existence of whether there is any third party liability, such as an employer/employee relationship, or some other legal theory under the law of agency.