Does Florida Need Tougher Driving Laws?

Does Florida Need Tougher Driving LawsWe talk often about Florida’s motor vehicle laws. How do Florida driving laws compare with those of other states? Do they need to be tougher?

It is probably best to compare Florida with states that have a similar population, such as New York (where many Florida drivers come from) and California. Like those states, we have a large number of tourists who may be unfamiliar with our laws and our roads, or who are simply having a good time while on vacation and putting safety on the mental back burner.

Although we think of Florida as a tourist destination only, Florida’s full time resident population recently surpassed that of New York. Whether talking about tourists or residents, Florida’s population is exploding, and so is the traffic on our roads.

The Statistics

In 2014, Texas actually led the nation in car accident fatalities with 3,538. California was behind Texas with 3,074, and we were next with 2,494 (ahead of New York’s total of 1,039—although with our lack of public transportation, it may be no surprise that Florida’s car death total is higher than New York’s).

Notably, New York and California have much tougher laws on driving than Florida. For example, both states have total bans on using cell phones (not just texting, but using them at all) while driving. Florida does not. Our “ban” on text messaging is actually a secondary offense, meaning that you can not be pulled over solely for text messaging, but if you are pulled over for another legitimate reason, you can also be cited if you were text messaging while driving. In other words, it is like an “add on” offense.

As we have discussed here in the past, Florida has no motorcycle helmet laws, while both New York and California do.

Drivers in Florida injure pedestrians more than those in New York or California. Florida’s car-on-pedestrian fatality rate is double that of New York’s. That is pretty incredible when you consider how many foot commuters there are in New York. Conversely, New York drivers on clogged inner city roads may be driving at slower speeds, and thus, when hitting a pedestrian, may be less likely to result in a fatality than in Florida, where drivers can often be travelling at 50 miles per hour on suburban roads. California recently lowered its speed limits to 55 miles per hour on highways and 65 miles per hour on urban highways. New York also has a 55 mile per hour speed limit.

Would Tougher Laws Help?

So, are tougher laws needed in Florida? They may be. Certainly, factors like weather, public transportation availability, and tourism all play a hand in vehicle fatalities in our state, so it can not definitively be said that simply toughening laws will result in fewer accidents. But certainly, given that Florida is disadvantaged in all those areas (often inclement weather, no public transportation, and high tourism), tougher laws may in fact be needed.

Some factors are universal. For example, we have written in the past about distracted driving, which goes beyond just using a cell phone. Today’s cars often have infotainment screens that control the radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and sometimes monitor and display essential functions of the car such as tire pressure, oil levels, or fuel tank levels. Many are complex to use and require a driver’s attention. This problem is universal to all states, and it is unlikely that any law will be passed to do anything about it.

Motorcycle helmet laws could certainly be strengthened. While that would improve the overall fatality and catastrophic injury rate of motorcyclists, it may not affect pedestrians who are struck by them. In other words, the fatality rate may decrease, but helmet laws may not reduce overall accidents.

Florida is Trying to Strengthen Laws

Florida has recently tried to strengthen driving laws. A number of proposals were discussed in the previous legislative session, but none have been passed as of yet. They all deal with distracted driving and text messaging while driving. They include:

  • A bill that would double the fine for anyone who is texting in a school zone or at a school crossing
  • A bill that would make texting a primary offense if it is being used while the car is in a school zone. In other words, the driver could be pulled over and cited just for texting while in a school zone, even if there was no other offense occurring.
  • A bill that would make texting a primary offense anywhere, not just in school zones.

These bills have not passed, but even if they did, notably, they all involve text message restrictions, but not overall restrictions on cell phone usage, the way that some of the other state laws restrict such use.

There also does not appear to be any push to change Florida’s speed limit laws, which can be as high as 70 miles per hour on interstates. It is likely that such a proposal would find little support, in a state like ours that is so dependent on our cars.

The Laws and Negligence

Remember that while violating a motor vehicle law does not automatically make someone negligent if they end up injuring someone else, it is persuasive evidence of negligence. The fact that a law existed to protect someone that was injured, and that a driver violated that law, is persuasive evidence in front of a jury.

In many cases—such as with DUI laws—violating driving laws that are also criminal penalties can lead to punitive damages, as well. Although we think of traffic laws as relating to fines or points on a license or even jail time, the laws do much more than that. They protect Florida families who are injured by drivers that ignore established motor vehicle laws.

If you or someone you know has been injured as a driver or a pedestrian, make sure your lawyers understand the traffic laws involved. Call the injury attorneys of Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss your negligence or injury case.