Driven by Distraction: The push to ramp up Florida’s distracted driving laws

8 On Your Side
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We live in a society of distraction. If you're not multi-tasking, you're not doing enough. 

It's a mentality we even take with us when we get behind the wheel. But distractions turn dangerous and sometimes even deadly. At least 233 Floridians were killed by distracted drivers in 2018, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

On average, distracted driving accounts for more than a thousand crashes every week, according to FHP. Distracted driving means more than just using your cell phone. By definition, it includes eating, putting on makeup and basically anything else that takes your eyes and mind off the road. 

An effort to outlaw some of those other distractions failed in Tallahassee earlier this year but it doesn't mean they're not still dangerous. Whether it's food, phones or personal hygiene, the Florida Highway Patrol calls distracted driving a constant menace. 

"I had a lady one time driving down Busch Boulevard, weaving across three lanes of traffic," FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins said during a ride along with News Channel 8. "I thought she was impaired at first. When I got up to her to see what was going on, she was putting on deodorant." 

Driving around the Tampa area, we encountered countless drivers texting, talking on their phones and eating while driving. One driver we witnessed was even playing with her dog. 

Under current Florida law, texting while driving is only a secondary offense, meaning you can't get pulled over for just that. Two bills introduced this session, including one sponsored by Tampa representative Jackie Toledo, aim to change that and crack down on the penalty. 

On Tuesday, the Florida House did take a step toward strengthening the laws, voting to approve legislation that would make texting and driving a primary offense.

"It only takes a split second for you to have a crash," Gaskins said. 

If anyone knows that, it's the Scherer family from Riverview. 

On Sep. 15, 2016, the Scherers found themselves stuck in I-75 traffic near Brooksville when a driver distracted by his phone rear-ended their SUV at more than 100 miles per hour. 

"We were hit with such impact, we went from zero to 40 miles per hour in less than a tenth of a second," Brooke Scherer said.

Brooke, her husband Jordan and her 5-year-old daughter Mallory were all hospitalized. Nine-year-old Logan Scherer died almost instantly. 

"The last image I remember of my son is him lying under a yellow tarp on the side of the road," Brooke recalled. 

After that sight that most parents couldn't imagine, the Scherers are now on a mission to make sure no one else has to. They've devoted their lives to the Living for Logan Foundation, giving educational talks about the dangers of distracted driving and pushing for better policies against it. 

The Scherers support the texting and driving bill introduced this session but say Florida still has a long road ahead, especially compared to the laws other states already have on the books. 

"We want to see distracted driving recognized as socially irresponsible," explained Jordan Scherer, comparing distracted driving to driving drunk. 

In a society driven to do everything at once, the Scherers are determined to do all they can to make distracted driving a thing of the past.


Florida 2018 distracted driving crashes

Here's a look at the numbers of distracted driving crashes in Florida by county. Hover over the bars on the chart to see the exact number.

 

Source: FLHSMV Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

Florida distracted driving citations

Here's a look at the numbers of distracted driving citations Florida. Hover over the bars on the chart to see the exact number.

 

Source: FLHSMV Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

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