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Tampa Bay residents overwhelmingly support texting ban

You've seen them on the roads. You might even be one of them.

They linger at green lights. They drive with their heads down, their knees steering the wheel. Their cars drift over the white lines or veer across yellows.

They are annoying, dangerous and seemingly ubiquitous: people who text while driving.

Florida is one of just 11 states that have not outlawed text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Proposed bans here have been thwarted several times in recent years, usually by Republicans who say such a law would intrude on personal liberty.

Soon the Legislature will again debate a proposal that would make texting while driving illegal, and it seems clear that bay area residents want it passed, according to a recent Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News Tampa Bay poll.

Nearly 90 percent of the 521 Pinellas and Hillsborough county residents surveyed said they favor a ban on texting while driving. Seven percent opposed such a law; 4 percent said they weren't sure.

Still, the proposal lacks teeth. A $30 fine could be issued to a texting motorist, but only if the person already had been stopped for another violation, such as speeding or reckless driving.

Many say the problem is too serious for consequences so light.

"It kills people," said Robert Borucki, 83, of Town 'N Country. "You're not paying attention to driving. You're looking at the cellphone and punching away. It only takes a second to get your eyes off that highway. You can cause your own death, but more importantly, someone else's."

Borucki, who supports the ban, acknowledged that he has used a cellphone only two or three times. He said he doesn't mind if people make calls in their cars; it's the texting that seems much more dangerous.

Nadine Keris of Tampa is 57 years younger than Borucki, but she agrees.

"You can't multitask while driving," she said. "It's a one-mind chore."

Keris said she has never texted while driving.

"It does take some self control," she said. "I'm old enough to know better."

Among those polled, 35 percent said they had texted while driving at least once. Just 5 percent said they did it often.

Most of those who said they favor the ban offered one resounding reason: It's dangerous and causes accidents and deaths.

Talking on cellphones actually causes about seven times more accidents than texting, according to a National Safety Council study of 2010 crashes. Still, the researchers estimated that at least 160,000 crashes involved texting or emailing.

About half of the people who said they oppose the proposed law said they simply don't want more government interference.

Among those against it is Mike Castle, 38, of Clearwater.

"You can't legislate danger or stupidity out of existence," he said. "People are going to text if they want to text."

Even if the proposed legislation was harsher and people could be pulled over just for texting, he doubted such a law could be enforced. How, he wondered, could a law enforcement officer prove that someone was texting and not checking a GPS device or dialing a number?

Regardless of what the Legislature decides, Castle doubts much will change.

"You're not going to stop a teenage girl who sends 2,000 texts a day," he said.

Karen Mullins thinks the proposed law could help.

The Palm Harbor resident, who is 40, occasionally texts while she drives, though she knows it's not safe. A law, she said, would help remind her and others that it's not okay.

"Honestly, it's very dangerous," she said. "Drivers need to be paying attention to what's going on."

Information from Times files was used in this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

89%

Of those polled favor a law proposed to ban Florida drivers from texting while driving.

5%

Of those polled say they often send or read text messages while driving. See other responses, 7A.

Tampa Bay residents overwhelmingly support texting ban 12/31/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 11:13pm]
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