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Earlier today, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in a partnership with GEICO Insurance unveiled a new campaign to help curb the problem of distracted driving on Florida’s roadways.

According to the announcement, sixty four different “Safe Phone Zones” are being established at various rest areas, welcome centers, and turnpike service plazas. Large blue signs will be placed along the roadways informing drivers where there is a safe place to use their mobile devices. Assistant Secretary of FDOT, Brian Blanchard explained, “motorist safety is our top priority and we are committed to reducing distracted driving on our roads.” A map of all of the “Safe Phone Zones” throughout Florida can be found online by clicking here.

This program is another way Florida is trying to tackle the exponentially growing problem of distracted driving. Since 2012, distracted driving accidents are up 25%, and the problem is only getting worse without proper education and statutory fines/consequences. In 2012, there were over 4,500 auto accidents where cell phone use contributed, with roughly 255 directly linked to text messaging. States that have a strictly enforced texting ban had, on average, a 3% reduction in traffic fatalities.

Florida Statute, § 316.305, was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in 2013, making it a secondary non-criminal traffic offense to text message and drive. However, in order to be cited for this violation, a driver must already have committed a traffic violation, making it a minor deterrent. Also, the law only covers “manual typing” and not looking at the screen or even talking on a cell phone.

Research by David Stayer, et al., revealed that drivers having a cellular telephone conversation while driving exhibit greater signs of impairment than intoxicated drivers, including delayed breaking reaction. During their research, the accident rate for drivers using their cell phone was also greater than those who had a blood alcohol content of 0.08%. The long-term effectiveness of cell phone and texting bans should be strongly considered in Florida, providing greater restrictions and more harsh penalties. While research is still pending on how effective bans on cell-phone use is, some research has suggested that initially bans reduce accidents and fatalities.

Driver education is another important step in ending the epidemic. Organizations like End Distracted Driving are providing the tools necessary to education all drivers, teenagers to adults about the deadly consequences of distracted driving. If we can change the culture and general acceptance of using a mobile device while driving, we can make the roadways just that much safer.

Whether these “Safe Phone Zones” are effective and actually used by motorist will need to be closely monitored, but it is a step in the right direction and every little bit helps in the fight against distracted driving.

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