LANE: Is a stricter texting-while-driving law already doomed?

By Mark Lane 
Posted Mar 2, 2019 at 12:15 PM; Updated Mar 2, 2019 at 4:51 PM

The Florida Legislature is getting ready to convene and for a 10th year, I’m writing about driving-while-texting bills.

It’s that time of year again. The Legislature will convene Tuesday and I will write about bills banning texting and driving. I have been doing this for 10 years now.

The human brain and the human index finger are amazing things. But not so amazing that you can simultaneously react to traffic around you while commenting on the passing human comedy on your smartphone.

At best, you rotate swiftly quickly between the tasks, doing both imperfectly. At worst, you sucked into the screen and stop paying attention to the road altogether.

Driving is a complex task, and however good our reflexes, we can’t do more than one complex task at a time. Some of us are less bad than others. Nobody is good at this.

In a better world, we wouldn’t need to traffic laws against texting while driving, or even talking on a cellphone while driving, any more than we’d need laws against playing the saxophone while driving. People would just know better. Sadly, we do not live and drive in that world.

People, especially younger people, get locked into reflexive smartphone use and it doesn’t stop when they get behind the wheel. Just look around you at any stop light.

After five successive years of unsuccessful tries, legislators finally passed an inadequate texting-while-driving bill in 2013. By inadequate, I mean seldom evoked and hard to enforce. Kind of a joke.

In Volusia County, for example, only 29 drivers were cited for first-offense texting while driving in 2017. In Flagler, 11 drivers. Nobody was cited as a repeat offender in either county. This did not happen because we have exceptionally scrupulous drivers. Any drive on Nova Road will disprove that.

The difficulty is that a driver can only be stopped for texting on the road as a secondary offense. You must be doing something else citable to be stopped for driving while texting. You can be pulled over for a burnt out license plate light but not for composing a text while driving. In 47 other states, this is a primary offense, citable all on its own, but in Florida, we always have to be the exception.

Last session, as legislators reacted to alarming crash numbers because of distracted driving, it really looked like something might become law. “The statistics have just become overwhelming,” said then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

The tougher texting-while-driving bill passed the House with only two votes opposed but was stopped dead in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Similar legislation already had been filed for the coming session. But something odd befell it in committee. The proposed “Florida Ban on Texting-While-Driving Law” turned into the “Florida Driving-While-Distracted Law” with a much-expanded menu of actions you could be pulled over for. These include “reading, writing, performing personal grooming, applying a beauty aid or similar products, interacting with pets or unsecured cargo, using a personal wireless communications device, or engaging in any other activity, conduct, task or action that causes distraction.”

Whoa! Quite a menu. Something to worry about at the take-out window.

Minority legislators and civil libertarians already were wary about the anti-texting laws being misused for “driving while black” traffic stops. Now, they will be more opposed because the bill is overly broad. It invites pretextual traffic stops. An easy way to pull just about anyone over.

The Legislature hasn’t even convened yet and the measure already is in danger of being loved to death in the Senate. I guess I’ll be writing another column like this next year.

Florida needs the kind of carefully drafted anti-texting bill most states already have. It’s dangerous out there.


Honk! Florida texting bill should include red-light fools | Commentary

David Whitley, Contact Reporter Orlando Sentinel

A new survey shows that 57 percent of Florida drivers are self-absorbed goofballs.

It was based on a highly unscientific study of hundreds of motorists and conducted by a nonreputable polling firm – namely, me.

But I swear it’s accurate, and you’ll swear something has to be done about it. In fact, if you’ve been victimized by these people you’ve probably already sworn quite a bit.

We’re talking about our fellow motorists who use their smartphones at red lights. I’m sure most of them are decent, law-abiding citizens. But that’s part of the problem.

Texting while driving is (semi) illegal in Florida. Texting at red lights is not.

For some inexplicable reason, that wouldn’t change under two proposed laws that would crack down on texting.

You could still whip out your iPhone and respond to text messages, check your email, say hello to Facebook friends, play Fortnite, order a new Cuisinart from Amazon and become totally oblivious to your surroundings.

And it would be A-OK as long as you don’t become a traffic hazard. Which anyone who’s ever been stuck behind Mr. or Ms. Red Light Texter can tell you only happens all the time.

You know the drill.

The light turns green. A car ahead of you doesn’t move.

You inch forward. The texter still doesn’t budge.

You debate whether to honk your horn. You wait a second because maybe, just maybe, the driver is having a baby or a heart attack or grand mal seizure and you don’t want to seem like a hair-triggered jerk.

An eternity of two or three seconds passes. Still no movement.

You reach for the horn, and at that split second the texter snaps out of their digital trance and hits the gas. You make it through before the light turns red, but pity the poor sucker three or four cars back.

Meanwhile, Mr. or Ms. Texter is blissfully on their way to the next red light, where there will be a fresh batch of people to infuriate.

Am I wrong, or is the preceding scenario happening more often as our ADD society becomes further addicted to social media?

I couldn’t find any real studies to confirm that, but there are tons of them verifying the danger of texting while driving.

It’s against the law in 47 states, including Florida. Though we make it a “second offense,” meaning police first must stop drivers for another offense, like speeding or running a light, in order to write a ticket for texting.

As long as nothing’s wrong with their car, drivers can zoom down the interstate texting to their heart’s content. And there’s nothing police can do about it.

Two bills have been filed in the Florida Legislature that would make texting a “primary” offense. Any sentient human should be all for that.

I endorsed the bills even before a distracted driver rear-ended my wife’s car. The humans were fine, but her car sustained $5,000 worth of damage.

“I-4 and texting are great for business,” the guy at the body shop told me.

We’re spending $2.3 billion to improve I-4. Making texting a primary offense would be a lot cheaper and save far more lives.

It would save a lot of infuriation if Florida legislators changed the definition of “vehicle operator.”

Statutes ramble on about sending and receiving character-based messages, Internet connections and other communications while operating a motor vehicle. But “a motor vehicle that stationary is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition….”

Whoever wrote that obviously hasn’t been stuck behind Mr. or Ms. Red Light Texter.

The bills filed in the Florida Legislature need to be amended to include sitting idle under the definition of “vehicle operator.”

The state’s DUI laws do. The car doesn’t even have to running for the person behind the wheel to be arrested.

Texting at red lights isn’t nearly as lethal as drunk driving or texting while driving 70 mph. But texters start, stop, drift and increase the likelihood someone behind them will try to beat the light.

They also make other motorists want to commit homicide.

I don’t advocate mass extermination, but a crackdown is called for. Being a “vehicle operator” and “smartphone operator” do not mix, even if the car is standing still.

David Whitley is a member of our Community Conversations Team. He can be reached at dwhitley@orlandosentinel.com

Parking lot crashes on the rise in the Tampa Bay area, possibly due to distracted driving

Posted: 3:19 PM, Feb 05, 2019  Updated: 2:38 AM, Feb 06, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. — Parking in the Tampa Bay area can sometimes feel like playing bumper cars in a maze.

“If you’re not watching, God forbid,” warns Judy Gowing. “I’ve seen some pretty scary things going on in parking lots,” she says.

A driver blindsided Judy on May 7, 2018 in St. Petersburg

“The car was coming from that direction. And she hit me about right here,” Gowing said. “It left a bruise on my hip”

What happened to Judy is happening more and more in Florida every year.

From a car slamming into a bank in St. Petersburg, a car crashing into a pizza store in Lake City, a van plunging from the fourth story of a Miami parking garage, to people getting run over in parking lots in Hernando County.

Parking lot accidents are more than just fender benders in the Sunshine State. Thirty-two people died in parking lot crashes last year. Nearly 7,000 people suffered injuries.

ABC Action News pulled the numbers going back four years for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Hernando, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties.

Data shows parking lot crashes are going up every year in the Tampa Bay region. There were 5,600 parking lot crashes last year. That’s up 16 percent since 2015.

In fact, there were more parking lot crashes in our area than alcohol-related, motorcycle and pedestrian crashes combined.

Guess where most of the parking lot accidents happen? International Mall in Tampa and Tampa International Airport.

“There’s a possibility that drivers think that because they are off the main thoroughfares that some of the rules don’t necessarily apply,” says Sgt. Steve Gaskins with the Florida Highway Patrol.

Sgt. Gaskins says the physics of driving a two-ton car don’t change just because you are in a parking lot.

“Even at a slow speed, this car, when it’s moving, you are looking at 5,000 pounds worth of steel and metal that if it rolls over you can cause serious injury and or death,” says Sgt. Gaskins.

So what is driving the surge in parking lot crashes? Distracted driving.

A new report from the National Safety Council found 66 percent of drivers nationwide admit they make phone calls while driving through parking lots. Fifty-six percent say they text. Half send or receive emails. And 49 percent say they take photos or watch videos while driving in parking lots.

For a deeper look at the data behind driver behavior in parking lots, click here.

To see how you can make your driving experience safer and less hectic in parking lots, click here.

First responders remind drivers to move over for emergency vehicles

Tori Simkovic Reporter

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —January is Move Over Awareness Month. 

The goal is to remind drivers that state law requires you to change lanes when you see first responders, tow trucks and road rangers on the side of the road. 

Florida Highway Patrol said that failing to move over caused 185 crashes and resulted in the death of two troopers in 2018. So far in 2019, move-over-law violations have already caused several accidents in Palm Beach County.

“Just this Sunday, we had two incidents: one a couple miles south of [West Palm Beach.] One of our fire engines was struck while the firefighters were working an accident on the side of the road. Thankfully, nobody was injured. Only 30 minutes later, we had another incident up in the Jupiter area, where a road ranger was struck and we had to transport them to the hospital,” said Capt. Albert Borroto of Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. 

In just one month, Boynton Beach police have had three of their patrol cars hit by drivers failing to move over.

Move-over violations carry a fine of $119 and three points on your driver’s license. If it is not safe to change lanes, slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit.

Governor Ron DeSantis Selects Kevin J. Thibault as Secretary of The Florida Department of Transportation

On January 18, 2019, in News Releases, by Staff

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced that Kevin J. Thibault, P.E., former Southeast Regional Senior Vice President of TranSystems Corporation, will serve as Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the DeSantis-Nuñez Administration. Thibault has extensive experience in the private and public sectors, and has previously served for many years at FDOT.

“Kevin is a proven leader in state government and the private sector,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “One of the most pressing issues facing our state is the need to relieve congestion and continue modernizing our transportation system. As he returns to FDOT, I know Secretary Thibault will work hard to achieve the mission of providing a safe transportation system that ensures the mobility of people and goods, enhances economic prosperity and preserves the quality of Florida’s beautiful environment.”

“It is an absolute honor to be appointed as Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation,” said Secretary Thibault. “I appreciate the responsibility the position holds and I look forward to meeting Governor DeSantis’ mission for the Department.”

Kevin J. Thibault, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation

Kevin J. Thibault most recently served as Southeast Regional Senior Vice President of TranSystems Corporation. He was responsible for the management of $40 million in revenue and close to 200 employees. In that role, he deployed a streamlined team focused on delivering quality solutions to the transportation agencies across the Southeast.

Thibault previously served as Senior Vice President of Parsons Corporation where he developed a national toll practice and engineered the management of the $2.5 billion Gordie Howe International Bridge in Windsor, Ontario.

Thibault also has extensive experience in state government having previously served in senior leadership positions with the Florida Department of Transportation for more than 16 years.

In 1985, Thibault received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts. He has also been an Advisory Board Member of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth since 2013.

Opinion: Personal tragedy leads to traffic safety advocacy

The beginning of every year should be a time of hope, with the possibility of changing behavior for the better. Tragically, a traffic crash only three days into this new year ended in death for five children, ages 9 to 14, on Interstate 75 in Gainesville.

My nightmare began on Feb. 23, 1996. My 14-year-old twin daughters were the victims of a crash caused by reckless and distracted driving. Five children were killed, including my daughter Dori. Her twin survived with serious injuries. This event consumed my mind and my heart. I dedicated my life to road safety.

In 2000, I was elected representative for the Florida House, and subsequently re-elected five times.

In 2004, I started the Dori Slosberg Foundation to improve road safety by working with law enforcement, legislators, and the public. In 2009, the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law passed, allowing police officers to stop cars for occupants not wearing seat belts. In 2011, the Dori Slosberg Driver Education Safety Act was approved, adding $5 to traffic tickets. This has contributed more than $85 million directly for driver education programs in public and private schools across Florida.

My two decades of traffic safety advocacy have taught me that learning the cause of crashes is imperative to reducing fatalities. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates many highway crashes, but it is unclear when or if it will investigate the Gainesville tragedy, as staff are on furlough due to the federal shutdown.

I call on the president and Congress to reopen the government so the NTSB can work together with Florida law enforcement and transportation officials to investigate the crash. The parents and family of those lost deserve to know what happened.

IRV SLOSBERG, 

BOCA RATON

Make America Safe Again

https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article224216930.html

How can officials make stretch of I-75 safer after deadly crash?

I-TEAM: Task force created to make I-75 safer, but solutions never pursued

By Vic Micolucci – I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Ashley Harding – Reporter, Posted: 7:25 AM, January 07, 2019, Updated: 6:39 PM, January 07, 2019

ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. – Several communities are heartbroken and left with questions following Thursday’s crash that killed five children visiting from Marksville, Louisiana, along with two others. 

For drivers in Alachua County, Thursday’s wreck was not the first crash of this magnitude along this stretch of road. Many other serious crashes have taken place along Interstate 75 in the Alachua/Marion counties area:

  • In 2012, a horrific wreck on I-75 near the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park killed 11 people.
  • In July 2017, a tractor-trailer struck an RV that had pulled off the side of I-75 near Micanopy. The bassist for a metal band based out of New York was killed. 
  • Hours later, a semi-truck driver caused a nine-vehicle wreck after failing to stop and hitting a guardrail on I-75 near Belleview in Marion County.  One person died, several more were injured.

State and local officials have worked to get answers on how to make I-75 safer. It’s such a dangerous stretch of road that Sgt. Art Forgey with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office advises avoiding it.

“It’s bad enough that I tell my friends and loved ones not to get on the interstate,” Forgey said.

At one point, the idea of building a new road between Alachua and Marion counties was discussed but never materialized. The purpose would have been to offset I-75 traffic.

A task force was also created to study documented problems on I-75. Ultimately, that task force made a series of recommendations, including implementing truck-only lanes, expanding freight rail alternatives and enhancing intercity bus service.

But, as the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned, it doesn’t appear as though anyone ever acted on those recommendations. Matt Surrency, mayor of Hawthorne and one of the task force’s members, said he hasn’t seen any of the changes yet.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation, local governments have shut down most of the ideas, or at least put them off. That’s a source of frustration to Surrency, whose committee offered some viable guidance.

“I think that you get frustrated after awhile, especially with the pace government works at sometimes,” he said.

Because the cause of Thursday’s crash remains under active investigation, Surrency was reluctant to point fingers. Instead of trying to find someone to blame, he said, now is the time to band together and take action.

“It’s something we can do this year,” Surrency said.

The number of crashes in Alachua County has increased overall, according to data from the Florida Highway Patrol. In 2017, there were 55 fatal vehicle crashes — an increase from both 2015 and 2016.

For now, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office is looking at increasing patrols along that stretch of highway. Currently, state troopers and deputies work the road together, but the sheriff wants more resources to deter dangerous driving.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

Preserve more of Florida’s wilderness. It’s good for business.

The state Legislature has done too little to conserve and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Florida needs to start conserving more of its most vital lands.

Florida needs to start conserving more of its most vital lands.

By Graham BrinkPublished Updated 

Florida is in a relentless competition to attract and retain high-end businesses and the talent that supports them.

Our quiver includes some common fiscal arrows — low taxes, less regulation and, in some cases, loads of taxpayer-funded incentives.

Of course, luring and nourishing businesses is not all about finances. Quality of life matters. That can mean good schools, easy weather, robust transit or a vibrant arts and entertainment community. 

It also means outdoor places to play. Places to canoe or spot an alligator. Places that keep our water clean. Places to bag a deer or catch a trout. Places that you may never visit but are glad won’t be covered in concrete. 

In 2014, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed an amendment to use a slice of existing real estate taxes to preserve environmentally sensitive land and water resources. Few likely voted for it as a way to keep us globally competitive. Even so, it could help do just that.

A decade from now, another 5 million people could be living here, according to some forecasts. That’s more than the entire state of Alabama. By 2030, the population could exceed 26 million, more than everyone who currently lives in Australia.

Some of your new neighbors will happily live in the condo towers going up in our downtowns. But many will want a single family home on their own quarter acre of paradise.

Just look at Hillsborough County, east of Sun City Center. Twenty years ago, it was mostly small towns, farms and wilderness. Now development creeps up State Road 674 and Balm Road. Further north, home builders have broken ground east of the upscale FishHawk Ranch community, which basically didn’t exist 20 years ago. How soon before it’s all at the doorstep of Alafia River State Park? 

Developers will happily oblige our dreams, buying more farmland or pushing further into Florida’s limited wilderness. Who can blame them. It’s what they do. Beside, they can only do it because our elected officials let them.

That’s why 75 percent — 75 percent! — of voters wanted the state to use $300 million a year to buy up land. Unlike so many of our legislators, they understood that we need government to lead on this. The private sector is better at a lot of things, but the voters don’t trust it to protect the land that needs protecting. 

So far, however, the state Legislature has thwarted the voters’ will. In four years, it has used the pot of money to buy nearly no new parcels. In fact, it has used tax dollars to pay for lawyers to fight off lawsuits from groups that want the state to preserve more land. Is your head spinning yet?

It’s a showcase in short-sightedness. In 30 years, it won’t be easy for the future governor or members of the Legislature to lure or cultivate the next Apple or Microsoft if the state’s wilderness is covered in six-lane roads, parking lots and tract housing. 

Many of the high-skilled jobs of the future — the ones that every state covets — will just as easily be done from Denver as Tampa, Salt Lake City as St. Petersburg. If we can’t offer an appealing lifestyle, including easy access to outdoor pursuits, we’ll lose the race for businesses and workers more often than we win. 

And there aren’t many do-overs on the environment. Preserve it now or spend a lot more money recapturing it later. 

This is not an argument to buy up every plot of land in sight. There has to be a balance. We have to have room for more homes and more development. But it’s myopic to think that curtailing building in some vital areas will adversely affect the economy. In the long run, it will have the opposite effect. It will make us more desirable to the companies and people who we want to attract and the ones we want to keep. 

Contact Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com. Follow @GrahamBrink.


Government Shutdown: Here’s What Will Be Affected In Florida

Thousands of federal employees will be furloughed while others have to work without pay. Here’s what will be affected in Florida.

By Paul Scicchitano, Patch Staff | Dec 21, 2018 7:34 pm ET | Updated Dec 22, 2018 4:06 am ET

Government Shutdown: Here's What Will Be Affected In Florida

MIAMI, FL — Thousands of federal employees will be furloughed while others have to work without pay. Here’s what happens during a partial government shutdown.

A partial federal shutdown took hold early Saturday after Democrats refused to meet President Donald Trump’s demands for $5 billion to start erecting his cherished Mexican border wall, a chaotic postscript for Republicans in the waning days of their two-year reign controlling government.

House Republicans say they will continue to work to come up with a deal. In the meantime, here’s a look at what will happen now that lawmakers have been unable to reach a deal to keep the government sufficiently funded.

report prepared by Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee says that around 800,000 federal workers will be furloughed or have to work without pay. Airports will continue to function during the busy holiday travel season, but Transportation Security Administration employees and Customs and Border Patrol agents are among those employees who will have to work without pay. Federal law enforcement agents and correctional officers will also continue to work without pay.

The shutdown will affect nine federal departments, including Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, State and Justice, The Associated Press reports.

The lack of funds will disrupt many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and will work unpaid just days before Christmas, while 380,000 will be furloughed, meaning they’ll stay home without pay.

Those being furloughed include nearly everyone at NASA and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About 8 in 10 employees of the National Park Service will stay home and many parks were expected to close.

The Senate passed legislation ensuring workers will receive back pay, which the House seemed sure to approve.

Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded for the year in agreements reached earlier, and they will operate as usual.

The U.S. Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, will not be affected because it’s an independent agency. Social Security checks will still be mailed, troops will remain on duty and food inspections will continue.

In Florida, the following national parks may be affected:

The Post Office will stay open during a government shutdown and Social Security payments will go out as usual. 

The report prepared by Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee also lays out what specific groups the shutdown would affect. Here’s what the report says: 

  • Farmers will suffer, as the USDA will close local and state farm service centers across the U.S. 
  • Over 30 million small businesses will no longer have access to federally-assisted loans and technical assistance. 
  • The Federal Housing Administration will see “significant delays in loan processing and approvals.” 
  • Local jurisdictions will not be able to move forward with Community Development Block Grant projects. 
  • With the shutdown of national parks, economies of local communities that depend on them for tourism willbe affected. 
  • Civil litigation, payment to victims and training for state and local law enforcement will stop during a shutdown. 
  • Companies petitioning to avoid tariff on steel and aluminum products will not be able to do so. 
  • Food banks that receive commodities from the USDA will be affected. 
  • Small and remote rural communities that lack adequate clean drinking water will not be able to seek assistance to construct water systems. 
  • Payment to public housing agencies will be delayed. 

Reporting and writing from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Photo of Biscayne National Park courtesy National Park Service