Pinellas News

Pinellas schools, law enforcement release texting PSA

With the state’s new texting while driving ban going into effect on Oct. 1, Pinellas County Schools and the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office want to make sure the message gets through to area teens.

The two agencies have created a one-minute public service announcement focusing on the dangers and risks of distracted driving.

“Our driver education program already focuses on teaching our students about the dangers of distracted driving, but this collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office will help us further spread awareness about the intent of the law, which really is about saving lives,” Pinellas Superintendent of Schools Michael A. Grego said in a press release. “Educating the public as a whole can help protect our students, whether they are behind the wheel, riding as a passenger, walking or bicycling.”

The teenage demographic is of particular concern when it comes to texting behind the wheel. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites accidents as the leading cause of death among teens 12-19 years of age, with motor vehicle fatalities being the main type of accident.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s website posts federal estimates suggesting that distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes among drivers of all ages, leading to around 5,000 deaths each year. An in-car study the foundation conducted in 2012 found that teen drivers were distracted almost a quarter of the time they were operating a vehicle.

The sheriff’s office-school district PSA features students from Osceola Fundamental High School’s drama program. In the video, senior Zena Griffin and junior Lauren Quinn are pulled over when Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Sgt. David DiSano witnesses their car swerving across the roadway. DiSano then is shown explaining the law to the drive, Griffin, before giving her a verbal warning.

Florida joined 40 other states across the country that actively enforce some sort of texting-while-driving ban, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association listing updated this month.

Running afoul of the new anti-texting law brings a secondary offense, meaning a driver must be pulled over for a primary offense such as not wearing a seat belt or speeding before a citation can be issued. Only four states – Florida, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio – handle texting while driving as a secondary offense.

First-offenders face a nonmoving violation and fine of $116. Further violations within five years would be a moving violation with increased fines and points added to the driver’s record.

In the press release Sheriff Bob Gualtieri expressed optimism that teen drivers will benefit from both the law and the PSA.

“Our aim is to educate students and all drivers about the new law and to remind them that no text is important enough to risk their life or that of others on the roadways,” he said. “Remember, it can wait.”

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