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Monday, March 04, 2024

A bill that passed through the Senate Transportation Committee last week would prohibit drivers under the age of 18 in Florida from using a cell phone while driving.

If passed, the bill would also ban everyone in the state from sending text messages while behind the wheel.

The fine for violating the proposed law would be $60.

Considering the well-documented dangers of driver distraction, particularly due to cell phone use, we have to wonder what took Tallahassee so long to address this major safety problem.

While no state has completely prohibited talking on a cell phone while driving, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., have limited drivers to cell-phone use only with hands-free devices, unless the phone is being used during an emergency.

We're happy that Florida lawmakers have taken some action to attempt to reduce the number of car accidents caused by drivers using their cell phones, but we aren't understanding why they have decided to start by limiting the law to just teen drivers.

Many can attest to the dangers of drivers who choose to operate a vehicle while engaged in a conversation on their phones, but they would not necessarily agree that teen drivers are the only problem on the road.

Almost 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes happen within three seconds of some form of driver distraction, according to the report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

While that same report revealed that drivers between 18 and 20 were four times as likely to have inattention-related crashes and near-crashes as drivers over 35, we still think the cell phone ban should apply to all drivers if it would have any affect on the number of accidents.

First, the law as it stands would be very difficult to enforce with its current age restrictions. How would a police officer be able to recognize if a driver was in violation of the law? In a college town like Gainesville, where a significant portion of the population is composed of students who are at the fine line between teen and adult, it would require every police officer to be an expert at guessing a driver's age. The possibility of error or lack of enforcement is too high to ensure the law would be doing what it was meant to do - discourage distracted driving.

And the probability someone will cause an accident while using a cell phone is not about how much experience he or she has behind the wheel. When drivers are too busy talking or listening to a conversation to pay attention to basic traffic rules, the accidents they may cause have nothing to do with their age.

A study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that male and female drivers had the same increase in risk from using a phone, along with drivers who are older and younger than age 30.

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It only makes sense that the law should aim to prevent cell phone use for anyone driving a car.

If lawmakers have recognized the dangers of text messaging while driving, it is confusing as to why they have failed to realize that dialing a number and holding a phone with one hand is just as much of a risk.

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