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Florida Distracted Driving Summit has a clear safety goal

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Fast Lane American Government

Florida Distracted Driving Summit has a clear safety goal

Fast Lane
U.S. Department of Transportation
November 14, 2012

Wrecked vehicle from a distraction crash Distraction Advocates Deputy NHTSA Administrator Ron Medford with me, MJ, and her mother TextAndWreck

When we first began fighting against distracted driving in 2009, only 18 states had laws prohibiting drivers from texting behind the wheel. Now, after more than three years of our safety campaign, the number of states that ban texting while driving has reached 39, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Ten states and DC, Guam, and the Virgin Islands also prohibit talking on a handheld phone while driving.

One state that does not have a texting or handheld cell phone ban for drivers is Florida. It’s critical that this change, and I know some in the Florida State Legislature are working on it. I was encouraged yesterday to meet some of the hundreds of advocates at the first Florida Distracted Driving Summit and hear about their efforts to get a law on the books in the Sunshine State.

The summit--a partnership between USAA Insurance, the Florida DOT, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and Distraction Advocates Network--featured testimony from crash victims, doctors, road safety experts, and the loved ones of those killed by this deadly epidemic.

The research makes it clear that using a handheld device behind the wheel creates the perfect storm of visual, manual, and cognitive distraction. The troopers of the Florida State Police and the pediatric surgeons at Shriners Hospitals have seen the evidence firsthand.

And so have Elissa Schee, Kristen Murphy, and Russell and Kim Hurd--just a few of the advocates who have lost children in the prime of their lives to tragic crashes caused by a distracted driver. Margay Schee was 13. Chelsey Murphy was pregnant with her first child. Heather Hurd was on her way to meet her wedding planner.

My message to these brave advocates was simple: tell your stories to your state legislators, and ask them to step up and do what they can to prevent this tragedy from happening to other families by passing a good law and backing it up with good enforcement.

One of the brightest lights at yesterday's summit was 14-year-old Hah’mari "M.J." Watson of Seminole High School in Sanford. M.J. won our Distracted Driving Design Challenge with her "Text and Wreck" icon.

M.J. Watson and her mother join me and Deputy NHTSA Administrator Ron Medford at the Florida Distracted Driving Summit

Two years ago, M.J. and her mother were rear-ended by a driver who was texting. They were ultimately okay, but M.J. realized her experience could make a difference. She recognized that a social media profile icon could help get the message across to her peers.

I hope her icon will serve as a helpful icebreaker for young drivers struggling to speak up to others about the dangers of distracted driving. Her design of two crashed vehicles with a cell phone lurking in the background perfectly captures the fact that these devices are a constant element in the background of our lives--and they don't mix with safe driving.

Already, DOT's social media profiles are using it, and we hope that you'll download the icon and use it to spread this important safety message.

Look, the dangers of distracted driving are real, and we know that good laws, good enforcement, and personal responsibility can make a critical safety difference on our roadways whether you're in Florida or anywhere else in America.

If you don't believe me, listen to M.J.

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