Florida distracted driving law may be strengthened

If a series of bills passes in Florida state legislature, the state’s texting while driving laws may be strengthened.

A state senator and two state representatives have filed bills that would make texting while driving a primary offense, add penalties when a fatal crash occurs because of a driver using a cell phone, and ban cell phone use in school zones.

The “Ban on Texting While Driving” law was passed by the state legislature in 2012. Florida was the 41st state to pass such legislation. 

However, in Florida, texting while behind the wheel has been established as a secondary offense — meaning that police officers must have a separate reason to pull a driver over. They can only issue a ticket for texting while driving in addition to the citation for the other offense.

The current law also allows for several exceptions, such as using a cellphone for GPS navigation or to listen to music. Officers must be able to testify that the driver was not using the phone for one of these exceptions, which is difficult to do, since cell phone data is not available unless a serious accident occurs.

Officials said texting while driving, and other forms of distracted driving, are a major cause of car accidents, and they can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

Florida woman files brain injury lawsuit after fall from theme park ride

According to a brain injury lawsuit filed by a Florida woman, inadequate safety measures caused her headfirst fall from a ride at Dollywood.

Tedi Brown, a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, suffered severe injuries and a permanent disability after she fell from the Waltzing Swinger ride at the theme park in December 2013, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed against Dolly Parton Productions Inc. and Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. in U.S. District Court.

According to the lawsuit, Brown and her husband asked a park employee if the ride was safe in the wintry conditions, and they were told not to worry. When the ride came to a stop, Brown lifted her lap bar, not realizing that her seat was still ten feet in the air. She then lost her grip on the lap bar due to the slick conditions and fell to the pavement. The lawsuit alleges that Dollywood failed to close the ride when slick conditions made it unsafe and failed to warn patrons not to lift the lap bar until the ride had fully descended.

The lawsuit states that Brown suffered a brain injury as well as a broken jaw, torn ligaments and neck and spine injuries. The lawsuit seeks $475,000 in damages, plus costs.