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Texting & driving law: Sheriff not optimistic

A new Florida law is aiming curb the number of distracted drivers.

The law bans texting while driving and went into effect on Oct. 1. It comes after years of accidents that were allegedly the result of driving texting while behind the wheel.

A female student at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers was recently involved in a four-car pileup that was allegedly caused by a driver who was looking at his lap, according to witnesses. The student suffered nerve and tissue damage, and has experienced migraines on a daily basis since the crash.

“He was driving 50 miles per hour into a red light with no sign of stopping,” she said. “It’s obvious that texting while driving is as dangerous, if not more, than driving under the influence.”

It is cases like this that led to the new legislature. Other bills to ban texting while driving were brought forward by the Florida Senate several times before one finally made it through the Florida House of Representatives this year. The major catch of the new bill is that it makes texting while driving a secondary offense. This means that drivers need to be cited for another infraction before they will face a penalty for texting.

Florida Senator Garrett Richter was one of the co-introducers of the bill, and said that it is merely a “first step” in stopping the overall problem. He believes that the new law will encourage young drivers to develop a habit of driving without using their cell phones, much like drivers have become accustomed to putting on a seat belt. “

The idea is that new drivers will abide from the beginning of their driving careers,” said Richter. “The fact that texting while driving is now illegal, even as a secondary offense, is a big step forward.”

Although many support the new law, the majority of careless and distracted driving has been covered under Florida statute 316.1925. The statute effectively covers all forms of careless driving, meaning that texting or distracted driving was already illegal and punishable by law. Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott is not optimistic about how drivers will respond to the new law.

“The new law is meant to heighten dialogue and therefore public awareness, but I don’t anticipate it having a significant effect on drivers,” said Scott. “Most cases will be tough to enforce and easy (for the defendant) to beat in court. The fine is less than a parking ticket.”

A first time offender will face a fine of $30. Each additional offense will lead to higher fines and points being added to the offending driver’s record.

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