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Article by DOROTHY M. ATKINS of the Miami Herald
School officials have a new message for high school students going to the prom this weekend: Texting behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving.
The Miami Beach Coalition for a Drug-Free Community partnered with local law enforcement and schools to present the award-winning “You Only Live Once” Anti-DUI program in the parking lot of the Miami Beach Convention Center on Friday. High school students from Miami Beach and Hialeah watched as teens acted out a story of a group of friends whose lives changed after one drunk partier crashed his car killing his girlfriend and injuring others.
The performance included cameos by local firefighters, who extracted the victims from the wrecked vehicles, and Miami Beach police, who performed a mock roadside test on the driver of the vehicle.
The scene has been acted out in front of high school students nationwide for 16 years, but this year local officials framed the story with a new message: Texting while driving can create the same kind of impairment caused by alcohol.
Before the event, organizers distributed fans to high school students that said, “I’m a fan of not driving distractedly, STOP TEXTING” on one side. On the other it warned students not to drink and drive, because “YOLO,” an acronym for the phrase “you only live once.”
During the assembly, Michael Grieco, a Miami criminal defense attorney and former county prosecutor, warned students that it doesn’t take much to be considered impaired, he said. All it takes is one text or one drink.
“Get the idea of drunk driving out of your mind,” Grieco said. “All you need to be is impaired.”
Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott signed a ban on texting while driving into law. The ban prohibits drivers from using cellphones to text or e-mail behind the wheel in most circumstances. Under the law, police can pull over texting drivers as long as they’ve committed another infraction, like swerving or speeding, and if caught, the violator is fined $30.
Grieco argues that the law doesn’t do enough to stop drivers from picking up their phone to send a message. The fee is not high enough to prevent infractions and requiring police to only pull over drivers if they are committing other infractions makes it difficult for them to enforce the new law. Under the ban, drivers can continue to use phones for navigation, weather and to listen to the radio, and they can also use talk-to-text devices such as the iPhone’s Siri.
“It falls way short of where it needs to be,” Grieco said.
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the country and they are three times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2011, the number of fatalities related to a car accidents dropped by about 2 percent since 2010, according to a report released by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Meanwhile, teen car crash fatalities increased by 7 percent during the same period.