More than 3,000 people are killed and nearly 500,000 are injured each year in distraction-related crashes, including those caused by texting while driving. Attorney Alan Goldfarb, FHP spokesman Joe Sanchez, FIU Senior Instructor Katherine Depalo, Boca Raton State Rep. Irv Slosberg, and Ryan Duffy spoke about the issue.
Yessica Torres was 16 years old when she lost her mother and almost lost her father in a horrific accident. Myriam Del Socorro Lopez died after 17-year-old Luis Cruz-Govin crashed into the car she was in.
While there is no direct evidence he was texting when the accident happened, Alan Goldfarb, the attorney for the Lopez family, says the teen was distracted with his phone, and cell phone records presented as evidence in the case show he sent a text message minutes before the crash.
“I’m convinced that he was texting and driving and he never saw Myriam’s car,” Goldfarb said.
Cruz-Govin’s defense attorney told NBC 6 his client was speeding, not texting. Torres was alone with her 11-year-old brother when they got the news that completely changed their lives.
“I couldn’t take it. Everybody was really different with me, and I ended up dropping out of school,” she said. She added that she eventually went back to school but missed graduating with her class.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 3,000 people are killed and nearly 500,000 are injured each year in distraction-related crashes. Among the distractions they mention is texting while driving. They have recommended every state adopt texting and driving bans.
Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Joe Sanchez said: “People have to realize that it’s that message that you have to get across, that might be the last message you send.”
According to the Department of Transportation, sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds.
“Based on your speed, at a certain speed you’re basically traveling an entire football field blindfolded,” Sanchez said.
But while most states have some type of texting and driving ban, Florida has no law.
In fact, for four years, attempts to pass state legislation have failed. A January Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 Poll shows 71 percent of Florida voters support a ban.
Florida International University Senior Instructor Katherine Depalo said: “We are only one of five states that does not have any ban on texting while driving or hand held devices or anything.”
Depalo went on to say that 45 other states have already passed legislation.
Boca Raton State Rep. Irv Slosberg is one of the state legislators trying to pass a bill to ban texting and driving but says the last attempts were blocked by former House Speaker Dean Cannon.
“The last two years the speaker of the House refused to hear the bill,” he said.
The Team 6 Investigators reached out to former speaker Cannon on several occasions but he never returned calls.
Speaking about a possible ban on texting and driving, he told The Palm Beach Post he was wary of “government regulating private behavior.”
In 2010, a bill made it to a committee but was killed by Republican State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, who was chair of that committee. She told Capitol News Service if legislators banned texting and driving then other activities like eating and driving should also be illegal.
“We shouldn’t be isolating one negative activity when you have many others,” she was quoted as saying.
Bogdanoff is no longer a legislator. This year, there’s a new House Speaker, Republican Will Weatherford, and at least five distracted driving bills ready to be discussed when the legislative session begins in March. Some bills seek a primary texting and driving ban while others make it a secondary infraction, which means police need another reason to stop violators. A bill sponsored by Rep. Slosberg looks to prohibit underage drivers from using cell phones at all while they drive.
“What parent would want their child driving a car and texting or talking on the phone?” Slosberg said.
He’s hopeful the new leadership in Tallahassee gives his bill a chance. NBC 6 reached out to Weatherford about the proposed bills and while he was unavailable for an on-camera interview, his media representative Ryan Duffy told NBC 6: “The speaker believes it is important to strike a balance between protecting motorists and our rights.”
The proposed ban on texting and driving is not only getting a lot of public support this year but it’s also getting help from law enforcement groups and big companies with big money, like certain cell phone carriers and insurance companies.
In 2011, three years after Yessica Torres’ mother died, a jury ordered Cruz-Govin to pay the Lopez family $8.8 million in a wrongful death lawsuit. She says no money could compensate for the loss of her mother.
“I miss talking to her,” she said.