Florida lawmakers dragging their feet on regulations that could save lives and costs


Editorial: Florida lawmakers dragging their feet on regulations that could save lives and costs

editorial board
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Fatalities from vehicle crashes are costing Florida billions of dollars annually in medical and work loss costs, according to a new national survey.
With $3.16 billion in losses based on 2005 statistics, the Centers for Disease and Control reported this month, the state ranked third worst, behind only California and Texas.
"These preventable costs are a reflection of the terrible suffering of American families whose loved ones are killed or injured on the roads," said Norman Mineta, chairman of Make Roads Safe North America,, in a CDC news release.
While the financial costs and the loss of lives can be reduced through regulations, Florida lawmakers have dragged their feet in implementing rules to make roads safer.
The CDC issued four recommendations that states should take to reduce their costs. Only one of the four — a primary seat belt law that allows motorists to be stopped for not wearing seat belts — has been enacted by the Legislature.  The other recommendations are:
Strong child passenger safety policies that require children to be placed in age- and size-appropriate safety and booster seats while riding in vehicles. Florida requires child safety seats only to age 3. The vast majority of states require safety seats for older children, some up to age 7. It makes no sense for Florida not to have similar legislation to save children from death.
Comprehensive graduated driver licensing systems. Florida has such a system, but the CDC believes it should be more restrictive for less-experienced drivers, particularly in banning driving from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and having an adult in the vehicle if there are other passengers.
Universal motorcycle helmet law requiring all riders of all ages to wear helmets. Florida does not require adult motorcycle riders to wear helmets.
The CDC broke down the losses experienced by Florida, based on the 2005 statistics to $3.12 billion in work loss costs and $40 million in medical costs. As a percentage of total costs, young adult drivers registered the highest with 42 percent. Adults were 34 percent and teens were 16 percent.
Earlier this year, another national survey was put out by the Emergency Nurses Association, also ranking the state poorly in regulations to improve safety. In addition to the regulations recommended by the CDC, the nurses recommended a ban on texting while driving.
It is astounding that the state has not created such a ban despite clear evidence of the danger and despite bills that have been introduced to ban the practice, including, especially, teenage drivers.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administrastion estimates that more than 5,000 deaths occur on the roads each year because of distracted driving. Studies have found that talking on a cell phone is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content that would make the driving illegal and that texting is six times more dangerous than drunken driving. One study found that 47 percent of people under 35 with cell phones text while they drive.
Increasing traffic regulations has not been a priority for the Florida Legislature is many years. But, with the costs associated with a lack of regulations, perhaps lawmakers will recognize the financial losses, particularly when Floridians are experiencing economic hardships, and take actions that only they can take to make the roads safer.

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