U.S. transportation secretary to Florida lawmakers: Pass a distracted drivers bill

Posted by Mitch Perry on Tue, Nov 13, 2012 at 2:41 PM

Ray LaHood at a press conference on Tuesday
  • Ray LaHood at a press conference on Tuesday
There are various reasons why Florida is in the minority of states that has not put any restrictions on texting while driving — the main reason being that leadership in the Florida House and Senate has not supported such legislation.

But some of the biggest obstacles in the Legislature — like former Speaker Dean Cannon and Fort Lauderdale state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff — have now departed from Tallahassee.

In Tampa on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood spoke at a conference devoted to the dangers of distracted driving, and urged Floridians to pressure state lawmakers to finally pass such a bill.

"Florida needs to pass a distracted drivers law," LaHood said to cheers from the hundreds gathered at the Tampa Convention Center for the Florida Distracted Driving Summit.

LaHood began his crusade from the bully pulpit of his office since taking over as transportation secretary nearly four years ago. He said there's been great progress, as 38 states now have some type of law on the books regarding distracted driving (opposed to just 18 after he was appointed by Barack Obama to serve in office).

LaHood said with or without legislation and enforcement, there are a number of things that citizens can do to end this behavior, which results in thousands of annual car crashes and fatalities.

The transportation secretary said his office has crafted its own "model legislation" bill prohibiting using a cellphone in the car, and state lawmakers can use that as a start in writing their own laws. He said it's important for people to know who their state representatives are, and then contact them, advocating that they pass such legislation.

Two years ago, CL wrote about the fact that Florida was one of the outlier states with no types of restrictions for motorists and cellphones, putting them in the minority. More states have passed some sort of legislation since then, but not the Sunshine State.

LaHood said with the recently passed transportation bill, there is money available for local governments that pass distracted driver legislation. He cited Syracuse, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut, as receiving funding that those municipalities then matched to pay police officers to enforce such laws.

He also said that personal responsibility would go a long way in alleviating the problem.

"Put them away, turn them off when you're driving, and don't be calling people when you know that they're behind the wheel of a car," he admonished the crowd. "We're hooked on these," he said, pulling out his own smartphone. "We need to get unhooked."

LaHood said that more than 3,000 people have been killed and more than 400,000 injured by people distracted by cellphones.

Before LaHood spoke, a panel of three parents who lost their teenage children because of drivers distracted by cell phone use told heartbreaking stories about how their lives have been irrevocably damaged.

Other panels focused on the science and research behind distracted driving, corporate cell phone policies, enforcing such laws, and educating teens and parents on the perils of driving while texting or speaking on a phone.

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