Distracted driving law in Florida considered lax

Posted at 9:45 AM, Jun 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-10 09:45:05-04

LEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Four in Your Corner is digging deeper on the issue of distracted driving.  State law says school bus drivers are allowed to use their cell phones while driving, as long as they're not texting.  But critics call the law one of the most lax in the country, and blame it for the rise in distracted driving accidents.

You can understand the outrage when a Lee County school bus driver allegedly watched TV on her phone while she drove a bus full of children.  But some are just as outraged that police can't really do anything about it.

Distracted driving laws in Florida apply to texting.  And even then it's a secondary offense, which means an officer has to pull you over for something else -- like speeding -- to give you a ticket.

State Representative Heather Fitzenhagen has pushed for tougher laws in the past.  "Wherein the problem lies if you're trying to prosecute on texting, you have to have proof; either going to have an admission from the person who is driving, or you would have to find some other means to prove it.  And it's very difficult to prove."

Even if you can prove it, the fine is only $30 for a first time offender. And efforts to toughen up the law have failed in the state legislature.

Some argue that a law with no teeth leads to drivers thinking they can get away with distracted driving.  Statewide, distracted driving accidents have gone up every year since 2012, reaching nearly 46,000 last year.

Florida's texting law went into effect in 2013.  And in Southwest Florida, Lee County had the most distracted driving crashes last year, more than 1,400.

For years, Jay Anderson with 'Stay Alive, Just Drive; has tried to warn drivers about how dangerous it is to do something like students say the school bus driver was doing.  "I deal with families who have suffered tragedies due to the stupidity of someone else who believes that they can in fact text or use their cell phone behind the wheel."

The father of the student that recorded the school bus video he has reached out to the district multiple times about complaints of the driver, but he says the habit continued.