New texting law bring few citations in Brevard

6 drivers cited since law took effect October 1


MELBOURNE, Fla. – Garrett Vicarro was hit by a car and killed on the bridge east of Eau Gallie Causeway because a man looked down at a text message and drifted out of his lane in April. Though a statewide law was enacted to curb this form of distracted driving, court records show only six citations have been written for Brevard County drivers since the law went into effect October 1.

Garrett's mother, Trisha Vicarro, is horrified by that number.

"That's nothing," she told Local 6 News partner Florida Today. "That is nothing."

Though other states have stricter bans on using cellphones while behind the wheel, Florida's law makes texting and driving a secondary offense, which means an officer can't pull someone over for that alone, they have to observe another offense first.

"It should be a primary offense," Vicarro said. "A secondary offense puts police officers in a bad position because they can only pull you if they catch you for something else. And then it's a $30 fine. People don't think of that as anything. You go to dinner it's $30."

Nationally, about 421,000 people were injured in car crashes involving a distracted driver in 2012, up 9 percent from 2011, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. In 2011, 385 people were killed in crashes in which at least one driver was using a cellphone.

Court records show the average age of the six people cited in Brevard was 24, which falls within the age group most likely to be "visibly manipulating hand-held devices while driving," according to the NHTSA. Five of the six drivers were cited by Melbourne police, the other by West Melbourne.

Sgt. Marty Miller, traffic enforcement supervisor for Melbourne police, attributed his agency's relatively high number of citations to training the department did when the law went into effect.

"There was confusion about the fine amount," Miller said of the $30 fee. "It's way off base from most other citations, so there was some confusion there."

Miller pointed out that texting and driving is only part of the problem.

"The overall issue is distraction alone — and that can be anything you can think of as a reasonable person," he said. "Changing the stereo, eating, putting on makeup, reading."

He said automakers are adding more media options to vehicles, which distract drivers from focusing on the road. He'd like to see safety features that prevent or minimize collisions become more common.

Melbourne issued five citations for texting and driving since October, while in November, they issued 1,343 citations overall. But Miller said the new law is a start — it brings attention to the issue by putting something on the books.

"The actual law itself has little to no teeth," Miller said. "And I think we knew that early on, that the numbers would be dismally low."

Miller explained the way the law is written restricts an officer's ability to apply it.

He'd like to see more public service announcements.

"I think often we look to law enforcement to issue punishment and change behavior, but I think that's an unbalanced approach to it."

Miller said seatbelt usage used to be less common, but through a combination of writing tickets and educating the public about risks, the culture changed. Usage is up and citations are down.

"And that's what we want, we're happy to write less tickets, as a matter of fact."

Vicarro remembers her son as a people person. He would fish, he would hunt, he would boat, he would surf. He'd cook for anybody and everybody — he loved it. He'd take his mother on dates.

In any way she can, Vicarro calls out for change on behalf of Garrett, who was pronounced dead the day before his 25th birthday. She has written to State Representative Darren Soto. She encourages people to promise not to text and drive through an AT&T campaign. As a flight attendant, she shares her personal story with passengers during the final descent.

"I ask people, as a personal favor, because I've lost my child, to not put anyone else through that and to please save a life," she said.

"Put your phone away, it can wait."