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Do Cell Phones Cause Florida Car Accidents?

One debate that has been raging in Florida for some months now involves the use of cell phones in cars. Some are calling for a ban on cell phone use by drivers, noting that many Florida car accidents happen when a driver is distracted while talking on the phone. Others maintain that it is possible to drive safely while speaking on a phone and suggest that drivers should be able to talk and drive. Some Florida citizens are calling for a compromise – let drivers talk on the phone only when using a hands-free service or ear piece.

Where do you weigh in?

Six states have already passed laws that make it illegal to drive while talking on a cell phone. Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have all banned cell phone use by drivers. Starting July 1, 2008 California drivers will not be able to use any wireless hand-held gadgets unless they are using hands-free devices. Drivers under the age of 18 will not be able to use any wireless hand-held gadgets, not even if they have hands-free devices.

Earlier in 2008, Florida law-makers introduced a number of bills aimed at reducing cell phone calls in moving cars, but none of the bills passed. One bill would have banned all Florida drivers from sending a call, texting, dialing, listening or speaking on a wireless device without a hands-free device. A second bill would have banned teen drivers from driving and talking on hand-held devices.

The statistics do seem to suggest that some legislation is needed. The CDC reports that car accidents are the leading cause of fatalities for teenagers. They are also the leading cause of death for drivers in their 20s and 30s. In addition to fatalities, car accidents also cause many serious injuries to drivers and passengers. These injuries can include life-altering injures such as paralysis, burn injuries, disfigurement, loss of limbs, spinal cord injury, head injury, and many others.

According to a 2002 Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study, about 2,600 fatalities each year are caused by drivers who are distracted by cell phones at the time of an accident. The California Highway Patrol did research in 2001 and found that during a nine month period 4,699 car crashes were linked to drivers distracted by cell phones. Of these accidents, 31 were fatal and another 2,786 resulted in injury. Another study conducted by the University of Utah found that drivers using cell phones had the same response times as drunk drivers. The drivers using cell phones, the research revealed, were 9% slower to brake and 19% slower to return to normal driving speeds.

The Florida Legislature decided five years ago to make it illegal for local jurisdictions to ban cell phones. In 2006, 26 car accident fatalities and 1,364 car accident injuries in Florida involved driver distractions, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. 2003 statistics showed that most distracted drivers – 20% — who caused an accident were talking on cell phones.

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