A coalition pushing for safer streets for pedestrians and bicyclists in Lee County, Florida, is urging Florida to get tough on distracted driving and improve the safety of Florida roads for all users.
Based in Lee County, Florida, BikeWalkLee says in a Fort Myers News-Press opinion that its top legislative priority for the past five years has been to advocate for better road-safety laws statewide, with particular aim at Florida’s weak “texting while driving” law.
Although texting while driving has been banned in Florida since 2012, it is a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement authorities can’t pull people over solely for texting and driving; they can only pull over and ticket texting drivers for another offense, such as speeding or running a stop sign.
But as the 2018 legislative session starts in Florida, BikeWalkLee wants to see distracted driving become a primary offense. Florida is just one of four states that doesn’t make texting and driving a primary offense.
According to the organization:
Across the nation, overall traffic fatalities have surged in the past three years. In Florida, traffic fatalities climbed by 21% between 2014 and 2016. In Lee County, fatal traffic crashes increased much faster – 30% during the same two-year period, and to 43% during 2014 to 2017 (from preliminary 2017 data). According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida in 2016, and these crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious injuries and 233 deaths.
Smartphones and internet apps are mostly to blame for the recent surge in traffic deaths in Florida and nationwide, traffic safety professionals and other experts say. And although distracted driving is a problem across the country, it is particularly bad in Florida. According to a study led by the insurance firm EverQuote Inc., Florida ranked the second-worst state in the country for distracted driving.
“Clearly, one of the reasons Florida’s traffic fatalities are among the highest in the nation is that it has very weak driver safety laws in place,” BikeWalkLee said. “Florida’s alarming increase in traffic fatalities is not only a concern for driver safety, it is of particular concern for vulnerable road users — pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists — who are at the greatest risk when drivers take their eyes off the road,” the organization said.
In fact, Florida is the most dangerous state in the country for pedestrians, and eight of the most dangerous metro areas in the U.S. are in Florida. Lee County, Florida, is ranked as the most dangerous in the country, BikeWalkLee said, citing the national “Dangerous by Design” 2016 report.