Earlier this decade when cell phones being used by motorists were found to be responsible for a number of auto crashes, wireless companies pushed back against attempts to ban their usage to only hands free devices. They argued that using a phone was no more or less distracting than changing the stations on one's radio dial, and thus should not be regulated.
That was before the phenomenon of texting took over the country, and with it more incidents of tragic auto accidents due to their use, as well as damning reports like the one issued last year that suggested that texting while driving is riskier than driving under the influence of alcohol, or drugs.
But the Florida Legislature fiddled while other states took action upon learning of such troubling data.
Recently a major study performed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute was released which showed that when drivers texted, their collision rate was 23 times greater than when not texting.
In the wake of that report, lawmakers have now come to realize that it's the height of irresponsibility to continue to dither while such accidents continue to mount. In Florida there are at least 11 bills on on the issue that have already been filed to address what has now become a non-controversial attempt to deal with the problem.
Well, non-controversial to a growing consensus, but not to our lovable contrarian friends over at the Tampa Tribune's editorial board.
In their editorial from Sunday's paper titled, "Anti-text bills send muddled message", the Trib writes that "it's understandable that some state lawmakers and officials ...have jumped on the bandwagon to prohibit drivers from sending text messages while operating a vehicle. " However, the writer concludes:
But a new law to specifically prohibit texting would be an overreaction. It would put additional pressure on state troopers and other road police who already have their hands full stopping aggressive drivers, speeders and drinkers, helping stranded motorists and investigating crashes.
And unless you're foolish enough to send a text while stopped at a light next to an officer, such a law would be an enforcement nightmare.
The anti-text-while-driving movement is sending the message that the Florida Legislature should act every time a new device, fad or behavior could interfere with a driver's ability to safely and responsibly operate a vehicle.
Where to begin in attacking this logic? For one thing, such efforts are only "new" in places like Florida. 19 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving and did before the Virginia Tech study, so the notion that lawmakers are only seizing on the recent headlines is an indictment on them not moving quicker, not that they're finally acting.
The Tribune also writes that the new law would be an "additional pressure" on the fine men and women who are Florida State Highway Troopers, and that it would seemingly distract them from going after aggressive drivers and speeders.
Well, since as we noted earlier, there are indications that those who text are slower in reacting to actions on the road than someone drunk or stoned, why should there be more concern about one irresponsible method of driving (that is, under the influence) in contrast to another (and one in which a growing number of studies show is becoming as dangerous)?
And there is that part of law enforcement that the Trib surely knows about, called deterrence. A new law went into effect this summer that now allows law enforcement to issue citations for those motorists who aren't buckled up. Though there have been many arrests, undoubtedly there are many more motorists who are now buckling up simply because they're now following the law, which says they have to.
The editorial appears to have been contracted out to Cingular Wireless, or their ilk, as it concurs that state laws already requires motorists to operate vehicles in a careful and prudent manner.
The use of such wireless devices have grown exponentially in recent years. When used while driving, they have definitely been the cause of some accidents. Legislation is needed, and with all due respe