LAWS WON'T STOP TEXTING AND DRIVING, BUT MAYBE BIG BROTHER CAN

May 1, 2013

FLORIDA BAN WEAK, BUT TECHNOLOGY WILL LET COMPANIES AND FAMILIES TAKE STRONGER ACTION
Michael Mayo, Sun Sentinel Columnist

After some late squabbling, it looks like a watered-down bill to ban texting while driving will finally pass the Florida Legislature and go to Gov. Scott for approval.

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"It's a start — a way to get the ball rolling," said Marc Cannon, senior vice president of AutoNation, which supported the ban. "But it looks like the private sector is also going to have to get involved to tackle this issue further."

The law's provisions are pretty weak. It calls for a $30 fine for the first offense, and a driver would have to get pulled over for another traffic violation (like speeding or reckless driving) to get cited for texting. Police can't check cellphone records to see if a driver was texting unless there's an accident resulting in injury or death — a late House amendment expected to be reluctantly accepted by Senate sponsor Nancy Detert, R-Venice, in order to save the bill.

So with Florida politicians afraid to go beyond Text Ban Lite, it looks like families and companies will have to do the heavy lifting to confront the dangers of distracted driving.

Thankfully (and a bit chillingly), there's an app for that.

Emerging technology is being used to curb the use of smartphones while driving, says Steve Jones, CEO of Port Nexus, a South Florida-based firm that is marketing its system — called PLEDGE — to corporations and families.

Basically, the system alerts bosses (or parents/guardians) when employees (or kids) are texting or calling while driving, giving details like location, speed, the duration of the call and the actual text. The program can lock certain phones from being used above a certain speed.

The technology "is most definitely Big Brother," Jones said, but it can also save lives.

Recent studies have shown that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunken driving, and Jones told me companies are increasingly concerned about their liability when employees text and drive on company phones while working. He said parents can be found liable for minors who get into accidents while texting and driving.