NAPLES — Whether on a touchscreen or a QWERTY keypad, agile fingers that are used to sending text messages may have to pause in the driver’s seat.
State Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, and Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said Tuesday at a news conference that they introduced identical bills in the House and Senate called the “Arrive Alive Act.” The bills were actually filed in the fall and have been waiting in committee since November.
Drivers who turn their eyes to a cell phone keyboard have been blamed for fatal accidents and texting has been said to be more dangerous than driving while drunk.
“Definitely I’m for (a ban),” said Bob Bourne. The non-texting Naples resident said he’s cautious of drivers he sees punching keys on their phones at red lights.
“I just keep an eye on them,” Bourne said. “It doesn’t make me nervous. I’m a defensive driver.”
Kristy Russo, also of Naples, said she tried texting behind the wheel one time as she left her driveway.
“I almost hit the garbage bins,” Russo said.
That was all the evidence the mother of two needed to put her texting permanently on hold when driving.
“It’s too risky,” Russo said.
Since the first text message was sent 17 years ago, the quick form of communication has soared in popularity and become for some more convenient than phone calls.
The International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry found texting nearly doubled between the first half of 2008 and the first half of 2009.
About 385 billion texts were sent in the first half of 2008. In the same period of 2009, that number jumped to more than 740 billion.
But behind the wheel, texting can be disastrous.
Results of a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study summarized in a July press statement that truck drivers who texted were 23 times more likely to crash than non-distracted drivers.
Car and Driver magazine conducted its own test and found that sending and reading messages caused drivers to have significantly slower response times than when a driver was drunk. One driver drove an extra 7 feet when reacting to brake lights while drunk, a Breathalyzer read 0.08. Sober, the same driver went an extra 41 feet while texting and an extra 45 feet while reading a message.
Bo Landers, owner of Connection Point, a cell phone provider on Airport-Pulling Road just north of the Naples Municipal Airport, admitted to texting while driving.
“It’s the nature of the beast when you (sell) phones for a living,” Landers said.
He’s all for a ban but is skeptical that it can be enforced.
“When you’re taking your eye off the road, that’s not safe,” Landers acknowledged. “Definitely that law is well needed. If anything it’s the implementation I’m suspect to. If someone is going past you at 55 mph, how observant are you?”
Collier County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Harold J. Minch, of special operations, said distracted drivers, whether texting, eating or playing with a dog on their lap, are easy to spot.
“Their car jerks, it moves around very differently,” Minch said. “They don’t subtly correct to the vehicle.”
Minch said he and many other law enforcement officers would rather support a law that bans everything but hands-free talking because anything less is easily challenged in court.
“If we just ban texting, (violators) can say, ‘I was listening to a message,’” Minch speculated. “The question is, do I have the right to look inside your phone (to prove you were texting)?”
Florida has failed to move on a dozen similar bills for at least four years.
Nineteen states have similar laws and Florida, by passing the ban, could qualify for federal incentives, Long said in a statement.
The bill grants exceptions for several instances, including texting to report a crime, to send for help and for police performing official duties.
Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/