Local News

No local texting-while-driving citations issued

SEBRING - When Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler drives his unmarked vehicle, seeing someone texting while driving isn't unusual.

"I pass people all the time texting while they are driving down the road," Fansler said.

That's despite a law that bans texting while driving, which went into effect Oct. 1. Five months later, no local law enforcement agency in Highlands County has issued a ticket for the secondary offense.

Cmndr. Steve Carr of the Sebring Police Department said the difficulty is that because it's a secondary offense, officers only can stop someone if they have committed another driving offense.

That's why, even if they clearly see someone texting, that doesn't mean they can do anything about it.

Capt. Jeff Barfield of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office said deputies have issued no tickets, partly because the law is hard to enforce as a secondary offense.

He said he's seen some indication, though, that some drivers are taking the law to heart and pulling off the road when texting.

It's not just in Highlands County that the enforcement of the texting law is far below enforcement levels of other traffic law violations, such as speeding or going through a red light, which are primary offenses.

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that as of January only 32 citations had been issued in heavily populated Broward County. Statewide, only 393 tickets were issued, the report said.

The law was prompted by concerns over the possibility of accidents caused by distracted drivers who text.

Fansler said drivers who are texting believe they won't have an accident.

"People feel, for the most part, they are not going to be one in the accident," he said.

But Shirley Haraway said on Facebook she's aware of the consequences of that attitude. Her daughter's car was hit by a texting driver, she said.

Nancy Barlaug said on Facebook that she doesn't text or drive, but questioned how an officer could distinguish someone who is texting from someone looking up a number on the phone.

Carr said the two require different arm movements, but nevertheless, even if an officer clearly sees someone texting doesn't mean there are grounds to stop the vehicle.

One step Lake Placid Police Department has taken to reduce the possibilities of accidents stemming from texting while driving is providing on its Facebook page a list of smartphone apps parents can use to prevent their children from texting and driving.

Those include: DriveMode, a free AT&T app that automatically sends a customized reply to text.

Drive First, a Sprint app that sends calls to voicemail and silences email and text alerts when the vehicle speed exceeds 10 miles per hour. It's available on Sprint phones for $2 a month.

Quiet Zone offers a device for $240 that when combined with an app will automatically block all text messaging in the car.

Textecution, which has a one-time $29.99 fee, and will block texting if the car's speed is above 10 miles per hour.

tXtBlocker, which costs $6.99 per month, allows the user to set times and locations when texting is blocked.

DriveSafe.ly, which costs $13,95 a month, reads text messages and emails out loud.


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