Local News

Texting while driving law will be hard to enforce, cops say

SEBRING - Sebring Police Officer Paul Deshazo sees people texting, but that doesn't mean he has authority to stop them and issue a warning or a citation for violating the state's new texting while driving law. "It's a secondary offense," he explained adding that he would have to see the driver violate another traffic law, such as running a red light or drift over into another lane before issuing a ticket. He and some other local law enforcement officers say that's why it's difficult to enforce the law. The law took effect Oct. 1. So far neither the Highlands County Sheriff's Office nor the Sebring Police Department has issued a citation.
Authorities also said they were unaware of warnings being issued. At least for the first 30 days, authorities said, they would issue warnings. "The law is so new, I'm not sure most people know about it," Deshazo said. Deshazo said he hopes people get the message that texting while driving is not a good idea. He said he has investigated car accidents where he strongly suspected texting was a factor. It was hard, though, to say that definitively because he wasn't an actual witness, he added. "They were definitely not paying attention to the roadway when a crash occurred," he said. DeShazo said with people putting their cell phones on their lap or near the lap and tinted windows, it's hard to enforce the law, despite the need for it. Sgt. Andrew Markham of the Sebring Police Department agreed that the law is difficult to enforce. But, he said, it's not hard to spot someone who may be texting because they often drive like someone who has been drinking. In both cases, he said, they are weaving over the road. "There's not 10-cents difference between the two of them," he said. Markham said that over the years he's stopped a few people for traffic violations who were texting. "Some of them voluntarily tell me they were on the phone," he said. James Green, a deputy with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, said that while he believes the law is hard to enforce, he's seen fewer people texting. Markham said he's also seen, a change possibly because of the law. "More and more people are pulling over to the side of the road," he said. Deshazo, Markham and Green agreed the law the should be a primary offense and that would be easier to enforce. "They went half way (in the law the Legislature adopted,") he said. Most people responding to a Facebook inquiry agreed the law should be a primary offense. "Yes it should," wrote Alicia Baker. "It's so unsafe to text and drive. I don't do it, but I do see a bunch of people do it and I get so nervous driving next to them." Delfino Pelayo, another Facebook commenter, agreed. "It should be primary. Why secondary? If you can stop the first accident from happening, you must put the texting as first," she wrote. Markham said that people would be better off if they didn't use their phones at all while driving. "If it's that important (to send a text message), pull over," he said.