ORLANDO, Fla. – A car caught fire Sunday after crashing on John Young Parkway near Princeton Street. Police say the driver got distracted and ran into the back of a semi-truck.
With so many people expected to be on the roads this week, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Highway Patrol say it’s imperative that drivers avoid distractions.
According to AAA, 2.8 million Floridians will take a road trip of 50 miles or more, which is nearly 71,000 more drivers than last year. Troopers say distracted driving can be especially dangerous with the increased traffic volume.
Bonnie Frank with the Florida Safety Council has more than two decades of experience teaching drivers how to stay safe on the road. That includes teaching young drivers to manage their attention when they feel like they can multi-task behind the wheel.
“Mentally we cannot. Our brains are only able to do one thing at a time well,” said Frank.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles defines distracted driving as anything that takes your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road, or mind off driving. That includes: tending to kids or passengers in the back seat, eating, watching an event outside of the vehicle, interacting with passengers, unsecured pets, putting on makeup or grooming, adjusting radio or climate controls, checking your GPS app or daydreaming.
Frank says drivers planning to leave town for Thanksgiving should set their GPS or traffic apps before they get on the road.
“I was on I-4 last week and I saw somebody going 65 miles an hour trying to set their phone for their GPS,” said Frank. “You know we have a law that says you’re not allowed to use any electronic devices in the car as long as the car is moving.”
FLHSMV offers the following advice to put down any electronics while the car is in motion:
- When driving, set an example of safe driving behavior – phone out of view, no texting, limit distractions.
- If you need to text, pull over to a safe location and put your car in Park. Or, if you have a passenger, have them respond to calls or messages.
- Are you struggling with texting while driving? Activate your phone’s “Do Not Disturb” feature, or put your cell phone in your vehicle’s trunk, glove box, or back seat until you arrive at your destination.
- Listen to your passengers: If they catch you texting while driving and tell you to put your phone away, PUT IT DOWN. If you see someone texting while driving, speak up. If your friend is texting while driving, tell them to stop.
Last year, distracted driving resulted in 53,596 crashes in Florida, an average of 1,116 crashes every week. Drivers under 30 were responsible for almost 40% of those crashes.
“I don’t want to just pick on young people here, because I’m telling you this [phone] has become like another limb. It’s very difficult to put it down. So, we’ve got to make ourselves do that,” said Frank.
Frank’s advice for anyone on the road this holiday season: be prepared and stay aware.
“If you’re not safe on the road, that’s going to affect me coming down the road because then there’s going to be a crash and we’re going to have to wait for it,” said Frank. “What happens this time of year is people go, ‘yeah, I need to turn there. I need to go down there.’ Make your plans ahead of time and think about where you’re going. Don’t be in such a rush, and don’t make sudden moves and think, ‘Oh, there’s Walmart. I have to go over there.’ That’s when a crash will happen.”
In 2019, the Florida Legislature passed a law that made texting and driving a primary offense, allowing law enforcement officers to issue tickets to people caught texting while driving. News 6 was part of the push for that law, after anchor Matt Austin was in a crash with a distracted driver in 2016.
[STORY CONTINUES BELOW]
But the law is not easy to enforce, News 6′s Trooper Steve Montiero said in 2021, because drivers don’t have to surrender their phones to prove they weren’t texting when they were caught.
According to the 2023 Texting While Driving Report by FLHSMV, law enforcement officers across the state reported 4,680 texting-while-driving violations in 2022, which is an increase from 2021 when 4,165 texting-while-driving violations were reported.
You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below: