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April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month

By Staff | Apr 7, 2015

Motorists are reminded that April marks Distracted Driver Awareness Month.

Since 2012, distracted driving crashes in Florida have increased 25 percent. Teens represented 5 percent of licensed drivers but were responsible for 12 present of the crashes, according to officials. Drivers between ages 20 and 29 were responsible for 31 percent of the distracted driving crashes.

“The safest thing to do is to keep both hands on the wheel and keep both eyes on the road, and your mind as well,” Lt. Greg Bueno, a spokesman with the Florida Highway Patrol, said Tuesday.

In 2014, there were more than 42,000 crashes in Florida that were the result of distracted driving. Officials added that of those 42,000 accidents, there were a total of 212 fatalities reported.

“It’s common sense,” he said of being an attentive driver. “It’s being safe.”

There are three main categories of distraction: visual, taking your eyes off the road; manual, taking your hands off the steering wheel; and cognitive, thinking about anything other than driving.

“It’s literally anything that takes your focus from the road,” Bueno said.

He cited cell phones as probably the biggest distraction.

“With the technology, pretty much everybody has a phone,” Bueno said. “They need to separate themselves from the phone when they’re behind the wheel of an automobile.”

Using a phone while driving presents a dangerous situation for all.

“You’re increasing your chance of being involved in a crash,” he said. “And you’re putting everybody else’s life in jeopardy, as well. It isn’t victimless.”

In Florida, it is against the law for a person to manually send or read texts, emails and instant messages on a wireless community device while they are operating a vehicle – while the vehicle is in motion.

“The purpose of the law is your focus needs to be on driving,” Bueno said.

Texting and driving is a secondary offense punishable by a $30 fine for the first offense. Police must witness a driver violating a primary offense first, like no seat belt or speeding, to write a citation.

“When seat belts originally started, it was a secondary offense,” he noted.

Since the law’s inception in October 2013, there have been approximately 2,400 citations issued statewide for texting while driving. Within Lee County, about 142 citations have been written.

“But it’s not just texting, it can be talking on the phone, having an intense argument, putting on your makeup,” Bueno said of distracted driving. “Eating is a big thing that we see out there.”

“We see people reading while driving,” he added. “It would blow you away.”

In an effort to curb distracted driving, officials recommended drivers lead by example.

“It’s trying to change a culture,” Bueno said.

Stop and pull over before using a phone, or have a passenger use the phone.

“So much attention is given to it because there’s so much tragedy to it. Everybody thinks that that’ll never happen to me,” he said. “It happens to people every day.”