Texting and Driving Targeted by Florida Professor


A Florida professor may soon be credited with significantly driving down the number of distracted driving accidents nationally.

According to various news reports, the Florida Atlantic University electrical engineering and computer science professor has developed a technology that will allow text message functions to be deactivated on driver’s phones while the vehicle is in motion. If it works as designed, the product will not affect passengers’ ability to send and receive messages, but will shut down the driver’s ability to do so.

It works like this: A sensor would be placed on the vehicle’s windshield and wireless providers would pinpoint the mobile use at the front left corner of the vehicle. Incoming and outgoing text messages would then be blocked from that device. The goal, the professor said, is to save lives.

Wireless providers could have the option to block text messages from drivers without their consent. But even users are still given the choice of whether to have the device installed, the professor is hoping auto insurance companies will provide some incentives, such as lower premiums, for those who participate.

Texting while driving is illegal in Florida. F.S. 316.305 details the state’s ban on the practice, but it’s considered by many to be a weak statute. While it does apply to all motorists (and not just teens or novice drivers), the offense is considered secondary. This means an officer who spots a driver texting behind the wheel can do nothing about it unless there is some other offense for which the driver can be stopped. Beyond that, the penalty for a first-time offense is nominal: $30. That is pittance when we consider the extent of the damage caused by texting drivers.

The Florida Highway Patrol reports a conservative estimate of 42,000 traffic accidents are caused statewide by distracted drivers. Those crashes resulted in 35,000 injuries and 210 deaths just in 2014. A large portion of those distracted driving accidents are precipitated by drivers who text.

The estimates provided by the FHP are likely conservative, as distracted driving is more difficult to track than, say, alcohol in a driver’s system.

Development of the technology, the FAU professor stated, was motivated by the desire to “remove the blindfold” from the eyes of so many drivers. Because that’s essentially what it means to drive while texting. A motorist who stares at their phone for 4.5 seconds while traveling 55 mph has traveled the length of an entire football field without their eyes on the road.

While the initial break into the market for this technology will be marketed to specific groups (i.e., companies that have committed to limit distracted driving among employees, families who seek to limit distracted driving among teens), the goal is for it to one day become standard. If you have a phone, the technology will simply be equipped.

Initial sales of the device are expected to begin within the next two to three months.

Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers are weighing a proposal to strengthen the state’s texting law. One pending bill would not only make the offense a primary one, it would also double the applicable fine for a first-time offense.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

FAU prof invents way to block texting while driving, May 11, 2015, By William E. Gibson, Sun-Sentinel

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