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New Florida texting law too late for Brevard County fatality

Forty states had texting while driving laws before Florida's statute became effective at the beginning of this month. Many Pensacola residents may believe the law is too weak to have a large effect on state driving habits. The regulation does not ban manual texting when drivers are stopped in traffic.

The new law also makes illegal texting a secondary offense. An Escambia County officer would have to cite you for a primary traffic violation like speeding before issuing a texting ticket. The fine is $30.

Florida's law was not in force when three fishermen were hit by a texting SUV driver in Brevard County. One man survived the April accident. The other victims died from injuries in the Melbourne causeway crash. Police learned the SUV driver was distracted by a cellphone text before the car crashed into a wall and the men.

The mother of one of the fishermen, who suffered spinal injuries before drowning in the Indian River, is filing a wrongful death lawsuit. The claim for unspecified damages requests compensation for the victim's estate, burial expenses and the parent's mental anguish. Attorneys also were hired by the other victims' families.

The SUV driver pleaded guilty to a careless driving charge. The court ordered the man to pay a $1,000 fine. The driver must also spend 120 community service hours helping to build a victims' memorial.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported over 3,400 accidents in the state in 2012 linked to electronic devices. Hand-held cellphone use remains legal throughout the state, with the exception of texting while a vehicle is in motion.

Distracted driving cases are sometimes difficult to try since it's hard for prosecutors to connect harm definitively to driver inattentiveness. Criminal and civil cases may hinge on cellphone records to show a driver disregarded others' safety just before or during a fatal car crash.

Source:  floridatoday.com, "Mom of man killed on Eau Gallie bridge plans lawsuit" Stacey Barchenger, Oct. 18, 2013

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