The Future of Florida Traffic Safety Laws
Anybody who has ever driven in Florida is aware of the atrocious state of commuting. No matter where you’re going, it behooves you to check traffic apps to avoid significant jams caused by accidents. And these are no minor deals, either. While there is a fair share of fender benders, at some point you’ll also see the aftermath of a major crash — from totaled cars to a crane pulling a vehicle from the water underneath a causeway.
And things are only getting worse. A recent study published by the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety concluded that Florida is among the worst states when it comes to highway safety. Such revelation is dire, considering that in 2020, data from the U.S. Department of Transportation reflected an increase in auto accident fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the decrease in driving on a national level.
To add insult to injury, these increases are seemingly pointing to a continued upwards trend, since the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that deaths from traffic accidents increased by about 11% more in 2021. Since Florida is topping the list, the Sunshine State needs to do something about it.
What’s Causing So Many Traffic Accidents in Florida?
There are a myriad of reasons that contribute to car accidents. No matter anyone’s background or walk of life, a common denominator is that we’ve all seen or heard about the most popular ones, including:
- Driving while texting
- Driving under the influence
Not only are many of these circumstances preventable, but they are made even worse by the fact that almost half of car accident fatalities are the result of not wearing a seat belt. And the numbers of deaths related to DUIs and distracted driving are high enough to merit more serious preventive measures.
Finally, there are two significant additional issues: Teen drivers and the consequences of driving while texting.
While all of these issues occur all over the US, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation includes a breakdown of crash rates as they relate to state population. Florida is among the top five.
Florida Traffic Laws
Florida Statute 316.614 establishes that anyone operating a motor vehicle is required to wear their seat belt. As for front seat passengers, it’s unlawful for anyone 18 or older to ride in a car without wearing it. While this may seem practical, violating this law only carries a penalty of $30.
Florida Statute 316.193 states that anyone with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 or more while driving is considered to be driving under the influence (DUI). A first conviction penalty ranges between $500 and $1,000. A second one is between $1,000 and $2,000. Additional consequences may include spending between six and nine months in jail, and installing an ignition interlock device at their own cost for a full year. A third conviction constitutes a felony, and penalties increase accordingly. While these are certainly heftier, they pale in comparison when placed side-by-side with the loss of life.
Florida Statute 322.1615 establishes that the DMV may issue a learner’s permit to anyone who’s at least 15 and has passed driving and eye examinations. The standards are pretty baseline considering the consequences of not being properly trained.
By the same token, Florida Statute 316.302 establishes texting while driving ban. The penalty for a first offense is $30, and it continues to increase with subsequent violations.
While these laws exist to protect public safety, statistics show they are failing as a deterrent. This is why it’s crucial to advocate for more robust penalties.
Proposed Updates to Current Florida Traffic Safety Laws
Some of the proposed legislation to address the road fatalities issues in Florida include:
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is technology designed to prevent car accidents by providing blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, recognition of traffic signs, automatic emergency braking, and pedestrian detection. They work by installing sensors on motor vehicles.
Some of these applications also include features such as driver drowsiness detection based on the driver’s heart rate, movement of their head, and lane swerving. There has been recent legislation proposed in Congress to install such technologies on trucks. Similar bills would be beneficial at the state level.
Automated enforcement (AE) is most commonly known as traffic cameras. While they already exist in some Florida jurisdictions, installing them more widely could serve as a deterrent for drivers who are gung ho on running red lights if they do so fast enough.
Better Technologies to Reduce Impaired Driving
Interlock ignition devices are nothing new. As mentioned earlier in this article, a third DUI conviction requires one in your car. However, there’s a new research program called Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS), which, together with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is lobbying for car manufacturers to install breath and touch systems to measure BAC as safety features in their vehicles.
Since so many traffic accidents are caused by human error or negligence, autonomous vehicles could help reduce the number of crashes. This does not necessarily mean that a person would get a car and have no control over it. There are several automation levels that include assistance with steering and braking while the driver monitors operation.
These proposed solutions are only the tip of the iceberg. And regardless of which ones move forward, it’s evident that the systems that are in place now are not working. So it’s crucial for legislators at the state and federal levels to actively look for ways to not only implement more stringent consequences, but also safety measures that prevent accidents in the first place.
A great starting point is to pay closer attention to current proposed bills and study how well they have worked in other jurisdictions — whether nationally or internationally. And most importantly, get the input from subject matter experts who may take into account details that may otherwise not be considered.
About the Author: Mitchell J. Panter is a founding and managing partner at Panter, Panter & Sampedro, a leading personal injury law firm in South Florida. He is Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer, and he has been designated as such by both the Florida Bar and the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has successfully argued before the Florida Supreme Court and has held leadership positions in multiple professional entities within the legal industry.
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