City of Lakeland to combat distracted driving around Lake Morton to protect swans

LAKELAND, Fla. — Neighbors around Lake Morton in Lakeland are frustrated with traffic after seven swans have been hit and a person severely injured.

The unusual circumstances have prompted the City of Lakeland to conduct a two-week traffic study.

It found Lakeland drivers are not paying attention.

“There’s no reason to be on your cell phone,” said MeLynda Rinker, a Lake Morton resident.  She is sick of seeing Lakeland’s beloved swans hit, for something as preventable as distracted driving.

“Just put your hands on the wheel and drive,” Rinker said.

She believes beautified medians with trees, raised cross-walks or even community chalk art will help keep driver’s eyes on the road. Rinker also says more enforcement seems necessary. 

“Get the police out here for a couple of weeks and start giving tickets,” Rinker said.

The City of Lakeland reports more than 5,000 drivers are using Lake Morton Drive each day. 518 of those drivers are circling the lake at peak hours.

As it turns out, speed is not the only issue.

“They are not looking at me and they are not looking for me,” said Julie Townsend, also a Lake Morton neighbor.  She says she frequently walks or runs around the lake and knows the drivers are not paying attention.

“I am constantly trying to make eye contact with drivers so that they understand I am about to cross a path or cross a roadway,” she said.

Lakeland Police say accidents are up 10-15% this year because of drivers on their phone.

Florida doesn’t consider that a first offense—meaning law enforcement cannot pull someone over for just using their cell phone.

In fact, Florida Highway Patrol only issued only seven tickets in all of 2017 because they had to have another reason to pull a distracted driver over.

“Legislature has to decide that, that is a big issue,” Townsend said. 

As a next step in the process, the City of Lakeland is asking for resident’s input and launching a website and survey to save the swans and calm traffic around the lake.

Residents will also present ideas Tuesday night at a local meeting at 7:00 p.m. located at 1001 Success Ave.

"Watch the road, watch the birds,” Rinker said.

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