Polk County trying to combat distracted driving

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — We’ve all seen drivers do it: people behind the wheel trying to multitask.

Now Polk County is fighting back against distracted driving, starting with your children.

“I can tell when they are swerving or not going very fast and I go by them and they are texting,” Mandy MacDowell said.

She is one of the millions who have driven by a car and recognized they’re not exactly paying attention to the road.

Sitting at a stoplight or flying down the highway, it’s not hard to spot a driver that is distracted.

In fact, it was pretty easy for ABC Action News to find photos online of drivers doing almost everything besides paying attention. 

One woman can be seen driving while eating and having her foot dangling out the window.

In another photo, a driver is caught clipping her nails and talking on the phone, all while out on the road.

“It does, it makes me very upset because they can cause a wreck and they are not paying attention,” MacDowell said.

The worst thing she’s spotted in the past is a woman texting on the phone, nearly crashing and then carrying on like nothing had happened.

While distracted driving seems to be happening everywhere, ABC Action News discovered in all of 2017 only seven tickets were handed out across the state for texting and driving.

We asked the Florida Highway Patrol how that could be, and troopers explained that in Florida, it’s a secondary offense so it’s very hard to pull someone over without the driver also breaking another law first.

After that, it’s even tougher to prove the driver was doing something illegal at the time without data from the cell phone.

“We’ve already adopted a goal of zero traffic-related fatalities,” Tom Deardorff with the Polk County Transportation and Planning Organization (TPO) said.

He says safety on the roads is his number one job. And reaching a number of zero traffic deaths is a mighty goal considering ten percent of all traffic fatalities are related to distracted driving.

But that’s why they’ve started up a new campaign targeting 15-19-year-olds.

They will be educating them on why it’s so dangerous to not be 100 perfect focused on the road.

“I’ve saw it a lot more this last year around here more than I used to,” MacDowell said.

He thinks it’s a great idea to start combating the issue before it gets any worse.

Polk TPO says they’ve decided to target the issue now because fatalities have been increasing in the area for the last two to three years.

Experts also say that at any given time during the day there are about 660,000 drivers looking at their phones in broad daylight.

Polk’s first open forum to talk about distracted driving is on June 14 at 6:30 p.m.

It will be held at the Lakeland Regional Health Hollis Cancer Center Auditorium. 

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