Monday, December 9, 2013

State Attorney's Message: Don’t Text And Drive

By Mark A. Ober

In 2011, Florida had 2,398 traffic fatalities.   Hillsborough County was third in the state for the number of traffic fatalities, with 151 reported deaths that year.   Statewide, more than 700 of the fatalities were related to alcohol-impaired driving.   An even larger number of the fatalities were not caused by alcohol impairment.  Many of these tragic deaths were easily avoidable.  

Research into the causes of traffic fatalities has identified the dangers of distracted driving.  Distracted driving occurs whenever a driver engages in an activity that distracts the driver from driving safely; this can include texting while driving.  Nationally, more than 3,300 people were killed in crashes involving distracted driving during 2011.   Educational campaigns to raise driver awareness about the dangers of texting and driving have been launched by numerous organizations, including the U.S. Department of Transportation  and AT&T.  

At the state level, some legislatures have passed laws to prevent texting while driving.  On October 1, the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law went into effect.  Florida Statute § 316.305 is intended to improve safety and help reduce the deaths and damage caused by texting while driving. See § 316.305, Fla. Stat. This law prohibits a person from driving while “manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data in such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging.” § 316.305(3)(a), Fla. Stat. Violation of this statute is punishable as a noncriminal traffic infraction. See § 316.305(4), Fla. Stat.

Although my office does not prosecute traffic infractions, a noncriminal traffic infraction may become part of a vehicular homicide prosecution.  In order to prove the charge of vehicular homicide, the state must show that the death of the victim was caused by the operation of a motor vehicle “in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to another.” § 782.071, Fla. Stat. Evidence regarding the driver’s behavior at the time of the crash is relevant to proving this offense.  This behavior could include texting while driving. 

Too many people are dying on our streets.  My office can only become involved once a crime has already occurred.  Every one of us can become involved in saving lives when we get behind the wheel of a car and make good decisions.  Help keep yourselves and the other citizens of Hillsborough County safe.  Don’t text and drive.