AAA: Despite new law, many ignoring texting & driving ban

8:58 PM, Dec 17, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Despite a ban that went into effect October 1st in Florida, people are still texting and driving at an alarming rate.

New figures released by AAA The Auto Club show the new law has gone virtually ignored by thousands of drivers.

When lawmakers passed Florida's texting and driving ban earlier this year, Steve Augello called it a step in the right direction but knew in his heart the law was weak.

"I'll be back in Tallahassee next year to fight for a stronger law," Augello vowed.

For Augello, it's personal; his 17-year-old daughter, Allie, was killed in what's suspected to have been a texting and driving accident five years ago.

"I know it's gonna hurt the rest of my life. And I don't want to see anybody else go through what we're going through," said Augello.

Now, a new AAA survey suggests Augello was right. The law has been ineffective in changing many people's habits.

"We're not there yet. We're absolutely not there yet," said Michelle Harris, a spokesperson for AAA.

Harris agrees the numbers are alarming. 

More than 40 percent of people ages 19 to 39 admit they still text and drive, AAA found.

More than 50 percent say they talk on the phone.

And it may be worse than that, AAA suspects. "Because if that many people are admitting to it, there's that many more that are probably still doing it and don't want to admit to it," said Harris.

It took almost no time to for 10 News to perform an unscientific survey of its own, watching driver after driver using their phone in traffic.

April Allen says she uses only hands-free devices. She was disappointed by the AAA survey results, but not surprised.

"Despite all the warnings, despite all the deaths and everything else, they still do it because they think it's not going to happen to them," she said.

The problem from a law enforcement standpoint is that it's difficult to cite someone for violating the law. We contacted major law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area and asked them how many texting and driving citations they'd written since the new law took effect.

In Polk and Pinellas counties, they say they've written few, if any, citations.

In Hillsborough? Not one.

The problem? Without a subpoena to look at the messages, there's almost no way to prove a person was texting versus checking directions or even the time of day.

The law is also a secondary offense, which means a perosn has to be pulled over for another violation first. 

Little wonder, perhaps, it's gone so widely ignored.

"Those people that are still doing it know it's a law," said Harris, "and are still doing it."

There are already two bills ready for Florida's next legislative session that would strengthen the existing law. One would ban using a cell phone while driving in any capacity in a school zone. The other would make texting and driving a primary offense statewide.

AAA says what has to change is the culture.

"They have to do with texting and driving what they did with buckling seatbelts and drunk driving. Launch awareness campaigns and educate people."

Eventually, AAA hopes that will lead people to put down the phone, not just because it's the law, but because it's the smart thing to do.

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