Safety Fair alerts campus of new texting ban

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The University of Miami Police Department (UMPD) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) co-hosted the third annual Safety Fair on Wednesday.

“The fair has always focused on travel safety, but had a special emphasis on texting and driving this year,” said John Gulla, crime prevention officer for UMPD.

“This generation is generally more text-oriented,” he said. “And so the campaign itself, and of course us, because we deal with campus specifically, we’re going to deal with that age group mostly. So we feel it’s really relevant for us because of that.”

FDOT’s state-wide “Put-it-Down” campaign has focused on educating people on the dangers of  texting and driving with the University of Miami for the past two years.

On Oct. 1, a new law in Florida will be enforced forbidding drivers from texting.

According to Carlos Sarmiento, FDOT community traffic safety program coordinator, texting and driving will now be a secondary offense, meaning drivers must be pulled over for something else, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, and then, if the officer has seen the driver texting, issue an additional citation for this offense.

“The whole purpose of the campaign is to create awareness of the law, but even more than that is to correct the bad habits by doing the smart thing and putting the phone down,” Sarmiento said.

Various student groups were involved, such as Pier 21, UM’s BikeSafe and WalkSafe programs and the Association of Commuter Students (ACS). Daniel Acosta was representing ACS and felt that as commuters, supporting safe driving and the new law is important.

“I think it’s a good thing, because I know a lot of my friends text and drive, and it’s something that’s really dangerous, and I’ve driven behind my friends, and they’re like swerving around,” he said. “It’s bad, so hopefully that will deter some people from doing that and, you know, make the roads a little safer.”

To highlight the danger of drinking and driving, police officers instructed students in walking a line the same way they would instruct someone pulled over for a DUI. They allowed students to walk the line sober and then walk it again with “fatal goggles” that stimulated being drunk at night at the legal blood alcohol level, between .08 and .10.

“It was pretty difficult, we had to put on the beer goggles, which obviously made walking the line very difficult,” sophomore David Simonetti said. “You couldn’t tell what was straight, you had no depth perception. I had no idea where I was walking.”

The fair also featured representatives from Miami-Dade transit who showcased renderings about the plans for the new pedestrian bridge being built over U.S. 1 across from campus at Mariposa Court that will make it safer for the UM community to cross the highway.

Gulla hopes that students benefitted from the partnerships of all the organizations and have enjoyed watching the fair evolve to include UMPD, Florida Highway Patrol and the city of Miami, Miami-Dade and Pinecrest police departments.

“In addition to the distracted driving campaign, there’s also an awareness that we want to let people know about the safety programs that we have available here and a general awareness of public safety and things we have available in the community for them,” Gulla said.

For more information, visit miami.edu/police or distraction.gov.

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Ashley Martinez is a senior majoring in journalism and psychology, which have sharpened her people-watching skills. She has worked as a staff writer, copy editor, assistant editor and is now the Edge arts and entertainment editor at The Miami Hurricane. She serves as the president of UM's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Her work has been featured in The Hurricane, Distraction Magazine, The Communique, Gables Home Page and The Miami Herald. When she's not working on a story, she loves going to the theatre and singing show tunes.

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