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Texting and driving vs. drunk driving: is there a difference?

Because alcohol usage predated the automobile, the problem of drinking and driving has been with us since the earliest days of the Model "T" more than a century ago. But the advance of electronic technology has given rise to a new challenger to alcohol when it comes to drivers who pose a risk to themselves and to others: the smartphone.

In its earliest incarnation, the smartphone (then popularly known as the cellphone) lacked a practical means to exchange information by other than phone calls. It was potentially dangerous because of the temptations it presented to engage in distracted driving and one-handed driving. But at least if one was talking on the phone while driving, it was still possible to be looking outside of the car while doing so (preferably, but not always in the direction of travel).

Today's smartphones have already made their predecessors of the late 20th Century look primitive by comparison. And this technological evolution presents a double-edged sword. Although people can now read and send emails, surf the Internet, and read and send text messages virtually whenever and wherever they wish now, therein lies the problem: they can do all of these things while they are driving.

Studies have strongly suggested that when it comes to posing a hazard on the road, the new king has become texting and driving. Drunk driving will always be a danger, but people who text and drive ("distracted driving") are almost 25 percent more likely than drunk drivers to get into an accident. Some other alarming conclusions of these studies are:

  • Texting and driving is, in terms of its degrading effects on driving ability, similar to drinking four beers.
  • While drunk driving fatalities nationwide have been decreasing, the reverse is true for texting and driving fatalities. About one in every four accidents today is connected to texting and driving.
  • Texting and driving is, except for limited exceptions, illegal in Florida and punishable as a "secondary" offense (that is, you cannot be pulled over solely for texting and driving). And to the extent that it contributes to accidents, texting and driving can also form the basis for a claim of negligence in a personal injury lawsuit if an accident ensues.
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