Caught on camera: Central Florida drivers texting

'We've had crash upon crash where phones have been in hand,' FHP said

By Sean Lavin - Producer

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Orange County had more than 5,500 distracted driving crashes last year -- the worst in the entire state.

That's according to Florida Highway Patrol records. And FHP Sgt. Kim Montes told News 6 that's just scratching the surface.

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"We've had crash upon crash where phones have been in hand, where texts have been sent," Montes said. "This is not something that is being blown out of proportion. It's actually being underreported."

Central Florida parents are furious over the stats.

"That's horrific when you think about safety for our families," said Amanda Lent, of Kissimmee. "I pray every day for the safety of our children when we're driving."

News 6 hit the streets of Central Florida and caught driver after driver -- distracted by their cellphones. But it's a statewide problem.

The SR-22 agency conducted an experiment on I-95 in South Florida that caught 185 distracted drivers in just 20 minutes. That's about 9 percent of the 2,150 cars the agency caught on camera.

Texting while driving is against the law, but troopers say it's tough to ticket everyone they see because the law doesn't allow them to pull over people texting unless they're also committing another violation.

Still, nearly 640 drivers got tickets for texting in Central Florida counties in the last two years, according to FHP statistics. Orange County was the worst, with 287 citations.

"I think that people need to just put their phones down, period, when they're in the car," said Christina Viera, a local mother. "They're not only risking their own lives, but everyone else's, too."

It's not just texting that's risking lives.

"We see people doing all kinds of crazy things," Montes said. "Watching TV while they're driving, turning around and attending to kids, multitasking in the car, reading the newspaper."

Montes calls them weapons of mass distraction. The worst case she's seen happened on I-4's notorious Fairbanks curve.

"She was attempting to paint her toenails while she was driving," Montes said.

Montes says drivers think they can pull it off because it hasn't caused them to crash -- yet.

"But the problem happens when something in front of them occurs," she said. "A car stops suddenly. A bike pulls out in front. Then they can't control their vehicle because they're not paying attention to road."

The result is often deadly. Still, Montes says, many people just don't seem to get what troopers know is at risk.

"If the people could see what we see. If the average person could come to a scene and see the horrendous crashes from something so preventable -- and then we have to knock on the door and say your son, daughter, sister, mother is no longer here because someone was texting," Montes said.

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