From the Desk of Sheriff Bob Gualtieri

You may think that picking up your phone and texting a loved one while driving is no big deal, but all it takes is a couple of seconds of distraction to cause a motor vehicle accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds, which is like driving the length of a football field at 55 mph with your eyes closed.

According to EverDrive, an app that monitors people’s driving behavior to give auto insurance discounts, Florida ranked as the second to worst state for using a phone behind the wheel last year. In addition, 44 percent of the drives studied contained at least one distracted driving occurrence. This percentage was higher than the totals for speeding, aggressive acceleration, harsh braking, and poor turning. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles also found that in 2018, more than 170 crashes were caused by people who were texting and driving.

Due to these overwhelming statistics and reports of fatal crashes involving texting and driving, the Florida State Legislature passed a bill to make texting and driving a primary offense. Starting July 1st, if a driver is caught texting while the vehicle is in motion, Pinellas County law enforcement officers can give the person a nonmoving violation that adds three points to their driver’s license. First-time offenders may elect to complete a distracted driving safety program to forego these points.

Further, if the person is holding a wireless communication device—such as a phone, tablet, or game—while operating a moving motor vehicle in a designated school zone, work zone, or school crossing, they can also receive a citation. Initially, when this particular hands-free law goes into effect October 1st, deputies will give drivers warnings for this offense. But come January 1, 2020, they will receive a ticket, which will add three points to their driver’s license.

Pinellas County residents may still use their phones for navigation, making emergency phone calls and messages, and checking weather alerts. They can also text if the vehicle is stopped at a red light, or is stationary in standstill traffic.

However, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office encourages hands-free driving at all times to keep everyone on the road safe. Commit yourself to saving lives by never texting or using your phone while driving. If you see others distracted in their vehicles, encourage them to put their phones away.

If you drive and text, you pay. But remember, you could pay the ultimate price of injuring yourself or others. Here are a few alternatives to using a cell phone in your vehicle:

--Use a Bluetooth device that allows you to communicate without using your hands.

--Buy a car, or update your current vehicle, with a voice-activated navigation and phone system.

-- Put your phone on silent when you enter your vehicle to avoid the temptation to text and drive.

Remember, just drive. The rest can wait.

Posted by Monday, June 10, 2019 3:36:00 PM

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