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Ask Dr. Delay: Will Florida Legislature put brakes on texting while driving?

Tallahassee is gearing up for the 2010 legislative session, which convenes March 2. So what, if anything, can motorists expect to see coming in the way of new traffic legislation? Last year we saw the tightening of seat belt laws that allow police to pull motorists over solely for failure to use seat belts. This year the Doc anticipates that the hot topic will be texting while driving. While bills that proposed banning texting while driving have been filed before and gone nowhere, this may be the year for something to pass.

Influential groups such as AAA say they will be lobbying hard for the ban and they say that while it's about public safety, it's also about finances.

"Some states could receive millions of dollars in financial incentives for passing some of these laws," Kathleen Marvaso, AAA's vice president of public affairs said last week in a news release. AAA began a national campaign last year to pass laws in every state that would make texting while driving illegal. Nineteen states have passed such laws and AAA says it expects most of the remaining states, including Florida, to take up the issue in 2010.

Public support seems to be gaining momentum and even Oprah Winfrey has joined the chorus. Winfrey aired a show last week titled "Distracted to Death" that featured graphic stories of fatal crashes caused by texting motorists. The show apparently resonated because the Doc has received an avalanche of e-mail referencing the episode. The Doc's opinion is that while we cannot legislate common sense, the next best thing is passing such a law that would make sending or reading texts while driving a moving violation backed by heavy fines.

• • •

Last week's column that gave readers a chance to sound off on what bugs them about navigating the roads of Pinellas County brought a bounty of feedback. There were plenty of amens, and we heard a lot about what we failed to bring up, although we ran what readers sent us, so if your big beef didn't make it this year, it's because no one mentioned it. Here are a few interesting follow-up comments:

Bill Campbell wrote: "I was surprised that tailgaters failed to make your list. As a former Northern driver, it amazed me that I would see a string of drivers nose to tail in snowy and icy conditions. (During a 2009 Christmas visit to Connecticut I saw four tailgating cars smash up under snowy conditions.) Even without snow and ice, tailgating Pinellas drivers are a menace … ."

The complaint from many readers who are blocked from turning right on a red light by motorists sitting in front of them who plan to continue through an intersection brought a flood of e-mails from those on both sides of the argument.

Roberta Dixon-Pastor wrote, "I turn my signal on way before the turn but they ignore it and block the right lane, even when the other lane is free of cars. In the last two years only one driver changed to the middle lane when he noticed I was going to turn right. I was ready to get out of my car and give him a reward for being thoughtful."

Betty Jarrett wrote, "One reader says I should stay out of the right hand lane unless I plan to turn right and another says to stay out of the left lane unless I plan to exceed the speed limit because that is usually what happens in the left lane. I know, and was taught, that slower moving traffic stays in the right lane but I guess I missed out on the law to always turn right at red lights. When did that happen?"

Betty makes an excellent point. Motorists may turn right on a red light in most cases, but they are certainly not obligated to do so.

On the issue of people driving with their disabled placards hanging from the rear view mirrors, a reader wrote: "My parents … kept the disabled placard hanging from their rear view mirror. My dad was captured in the Bataan Death March and survived. He was physically unable to reach up and remove the plastic card … ."

Doc Delay is on twitter! Get news from the road at www.twitter.com/DocDelay. Please e-mail Dr. Delay at [email protected] to share your traffic concerns, comments and questions.

Ask Dr. Delay: Will Florida Legislature put brakes on texting while driving? 01/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 3:30am]
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