Increasing FL fatal crashes prompts new look at texting and driving

4:37 PM, Oct 24, 2012   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Florida - Hillsborough and Duval counties are seeing an unusual increase in the number of traffic crashes and fatalities, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Preliminary figures show Hillsborough County has seen 137 traffic deaths this year - up from 115 through the same period in 2011. There have been 98 fatal crashes in Duval County compared to 69 last year.

Seven Florida counties are recording significant increases in traffic fatalities this year. Those crashes are up four percent across the state.

Gov. Rick Scott says he wants to find out if distracted driving is causing the problem. He wants the state to study how texting and driving is impacting safety on the roads.

"If we wanted to look at how texting is impacting our accidents in our state, and our safety of our citizens in our state, how could we do it, what would it cost to do an analysis of that. Because I think we ought to continue to look at ways that we can make our state safer."

Currently, Florida has no law against texting and driving, so police don't typically track that behavior in routine crashes. However in fatal crashes investigators usually check cell phone records to see if texting was a factor.

There have been plenty of texting-while-driving bills proposed in the Legislature in recent years, but all have failed.

Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Julie Jones says other states that have laws against texting while driving are not seeing the same spike in fatal crashes. Jones also attributes the increase in crashes to more cars on the roads.

"Statistically across the country there are states that are doing a little bit better than us that have addressed the distracted driving issues. But I think overall we just have more vehicles on the road right now."

"We're also seeing an increase in the numbers of multiple fatalities and I can't tell you why that is. We've had multi-car pileups but we've also had vans and larger vehicles that created multiple fatalities. That's also contributing to the larger numbers."

The other counties seeing more traffic deaths are Broward, Palm Beach, Pasco, Orange and Volusia.

Jones says state police are adjusting their staffing as a result of the increase in crashes and conducting special enforcement efforts.

Dave Heller

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