One offense you probably won’t need a traffic ticket attorney for around Tampa is texting while driving. The new texting law only came out in the state in September, but has hardly been used, or maybe police officers just can’t recognize when drivers are texting. Despite the low citation rate, there is concrete evidence to suggest that the habit of using a cell phone while actually driving can be more dangerous than being DUI, although the statistics are hard to prove. Unlike its attitude towards DUI and other offenses, Florida has been slow to adopt strict laws on texting, unlike some other states like New York, where offenders can be fined $250 and gain five points on their license.
There have been no more than three citations given out to drivers in Ocala’s Lake County up to Wednesday, court records have revealed. Two of these were issued by the Police Department at Lady Lake and the other was issued by the Florida Highway Patrol.
FHP spokeswoman, Sgt. Kim Montes, for Lake County, who is responsible for highway patrol said that since Oct. 1 when the law came into force she did not expect there to be many citations. She thinks it’s premature to think that a rise in citations should take place.
This particular law is classified as a secondary offense in Florida, she said, and so only if a driver has committed a primary violation such as speeding is there any likelihood of a citation for texting taking place.
The first citation was issued by the FHP in Lake County to Matthew Joel Lewis-Grant, who was driving on U.S. Highway 27 on Oct 12 near Greater Groves Boulevard. The citation copy highlighted that the trooper spotted the driver coming to a sudden halt at a light, far past the white stop bar.
Subsequently, Lewis-Grant waited for a further five seconds before proceeding after the light changed to green. The trooper saw his behavior as suspicious and apprehended the driver.
The second incident was when Ocala resident Lori Michele Richards received a citation after an officer from Lady Lake was driving on U.S. Highway 27 behind her and saw her driving between lanes. The officer could see that her Oldsmobile’s light was on and the cell phone was in view.
The officer asked Richards to stop on Oct. 16, and issued her with a warning for failing to keep to the correct lane and also a citation was issued for texting while driving.
The third instance was when a Lady Lake police officer handed out a citation for texting while driving to Alicia Michelle Stanling on Nov. 9. She was seen using a cell phone while driving.
Lady Lake appeared to have two thirds of the citations for texting in Lake County and the reason for this according to Police Chief Chris McKinstry was that the department had put no extra work into the issuing of citations but the officer who handed out the citations normally drives a SUV so he might find it easier to see someone using a cell phone when they shouldn’t be and therefore issue them with a citation for a secondary offense.
The AAA and the Florida Department of Transportation have identified that the sending and receiving of texts takes the average driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. This is the same as driving at a speed of 55 mph which is the entire length of a football field.
Nancy Rasmussen, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, stated that her agency considers that in the state approximately 4,500 crashes that took place last year were as a result of a texting driver or a distraction by some other type of electronic device.
Capt. Rob Hicks of Leesburg Police Department stated that in his department violators would most probably be issued with a warning first as a means of educating them.
Florida law, as stated by Hicks, allow the phone records of a driver to be used in court as evidence if an injury or death resulted due to a driver texting.
Fort Lauderdale’s Sen. Maria Sachs, who was vital in the texting while driving legislation, has currently filed a bill to be heard in the 2014 legislative session ensuring that texting while driving will become a primary offense in the state.
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