There is always a certain amount of risk when driving. According to a recent report, there is a special level of risk for driving in Florida. The problem is that we simply do not have the laws on our books that would help keep people safe on the road.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released an annual Advocates’ Report, which rates each state and the District of Columbia based on the existence and enforcement of key traffic laws. The results of the most recent report were covered by the Miami Herald, who noted that Florida did not fare well.
The report puts each state into one of three categories, based on how many of 16 recommended road safety laws are on the books and enforced. These categories are Green (good), Yellow (caution), and Red (danger). Florida, which only has five of those laws in place, showed as Red.
The eleven laws the advocates want to see in Florida that do not currently exist, at least not in an ideal form, include:
- A rear primary enforcement seat belt law
- An all-rider motorcycle helmet law
- A rear-facing child seat through age 2 law
- A booster seat law
- A law setting the age for learner’s permits to 16 instead of 15, and limiting the number of passengers in a car driven on a learner’s permit
- A law setting the age to get a full license to 18 instead of 16
- Ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders that would stop them from driving if they fail a breath test
- An all-driver text messaging restriction
- Robust cellphone restrictions
Why these laws are necessary
These traffic safety laws are designed to prevent serious or life-threatening injuries. For example, an all-rider motorcycle helmet law could help bring down the number of motorcyclist fatalities each year in Florida. According to the 2016 and 2017 data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, Florida had the highest number of motorcycle fatalities in the nation. In 2016, the Sunshine State had a total of 574 deaths. In 2017, the preliminary death toll dropped to 504, yet still remained the highest in the US.
Restrictions on driving and obtaining a license for teenagers can also save lives. According to the National Safety Council, car accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths. In 2016, approximately 4,853 teenagers lost their lives on US roads. Until they have gained the skills and responsibility to fully embark on Florida roads, restrictions should be in place.
Rear-facing seats are crucial when it comes to protecting children under age 2. The design and position of the seat protect injury to the head, neck, and spine and can reduce the likelihood of death five-fold. Children should be placed in rear-facing seats until they reach age 2. Children should also be placed in booster seats until they have grown to 4 feet 9 inches or between 8 and 12 years old.
Ignition interlock devices are an important method to prevent first-time DUI offenders from operating a motor vehicle while drunk – potentially putting more lives at risk. A drunk driver doesn’t have to be a repeat offender to cause a serious crash. According to the data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Florida doesn’t fare well in comparison to other states when it came to its high number of deaths caused by drunk driving. In 2016 that state had a total of 905 DUI-related traffic fatalities. While that number dropped to 839 in 2017, it still remained significantly high.
It’s common knowledge that distracted driving is a growing problem on Florida roads. Currently, texting and driving is only a secondary offense, which means drivers can only be ticketed if they are stopped for another traffic violation. However, a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Wilton Simpson could make texting and driving a primary offense. If the bill passes and becomes law, this would take effect in December.
That is not to say that Florida lacks concern for traffic safety, of course. In February 2019, for instance, the Florida Highway Patrol launched a series of checkpoints aimed at impaired drivers. The advocacy group is setting a standard which is, by its very nature, an ideal situation. Even the best ranking state, Rhode Island, lacked three of the laws the report suggests. The 16 identified in the report are important and should be something we, as a state, strive to meet in our quest to keep drivers, passengers, and pedestrians safe.