U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood today called for Florida to join 39 other states in enacting laws prohibiting motorists from texting while driving.
"Florida needs to pass a distracted-driving law," LaHood told nearly 300 people during the state's first distracted-driving summit at the Tampa Convention Center, following similar sessions in Texas and Illinois.
"We've made a lot of progress in the past four years, going from 18 states with distracted driving legislation to 39. But there is a lot more we must do."
In 2010, nearly 3,100 people were killed and 416,000 injured nationwide, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported.
While 39 states ban text messaging for all drivers, no state bans all cellphone use for all drivers. Ten states ban motorists from using handheld devices, the Washington, D.C.-based Governors Highway Safety Association reported. Some cars are equipped with technology that enables cellphone communications without handheld devices.
The Tampa event drew victims of car accidents, elected officials, law enforcement officers, representatives from the Shriners Hospitals for Children and corporate officials with USAA Property and Casualty Group, the session's host.
Florida has just begun tallying distracted-driver incidents as part of a Florida Department of Transportation program to reduce distracted-driving deaths in the state.
The effort includes education and emergency initiatives.
However, Florida, along with 11 other states, lacks legislation prohibiting distracted driving. Florida also bans local governments from enacting distracted-driving laws.
State Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Delray Beach, said Florida legislators opposed bills he proposed last year restricting the use of distracting devices in cars, reasoning they did not want to impinge on rights of others.
Slosberg's daughter, Dori, was 14 in 1996 when she was killed in a car accident.
Distracted driving was not a cause — she was not wearing a seat belt — but Slosberg said he would persist in trying to get distracted-driver legislation enacted in her memory.
LaHood said Florida residents need to do three things to eliminate what he calls an epidemic in distracted-driver collisions:
"Everyone has a cellphone," LaHood said, adding that's why he calls the problem an epidemic. "People think they can use them anywhere, any time, any place, including while they are driving."
LaHood said he has not spoken with Florida Gov. Rick Scott about the issue, but he encouraged Florida residents to contact legislators to add Florida to the list of states with distracted driving laws.
Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas are the 11 states currently without distracted driving laws.