Florida pool service technicians who do much of their “office work” between maintenance stops should consider themselves warned: State lawmakers have filed at least four bills with the intention to stiffen penalties against motorists who use mobile devices while on the go. Three of the four bills aim to make texting while driving a primary offense, which would toughen a 2013 ban on texting. Advocates fault the existing law because it does not enable police officers to pull over a motorist for texting or tweeting, which currently is only a secondary offense in the Sunshine State.
Craig Wilusz is all for clamping down on distracted drivers. The president of Gulf Pool Service has 14 vehicles on the road, traveling to and from 550 pools in Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola. He’d like to think that all his employees exercise the same amount of caution as he does. It might be 20 minutes before he returns a customer’s call.
“They actually really appreciate that I pull over to talk them,” Wilusz said.
Not only are employees instructed to do the same, but texting is strictly off limits, as well. “I really don’t allow any kind of texting while driving,” he said.
That includes using the voice-to-text feature available on many cell phones. “First you’re having to formulate what you’re going to say, then look at your phone to see if it got it right,” he said. “In my opinion, you’re even more distracted that way.”
From an insurance perspective, traffic accidents are a pool service company’s single biggest exposure. That’s especially true in Florida, one of nine states recently declared a “danger zone” by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Last month, the coalition published a report card, grading each state on its performance in adopting 15 basic highway safety laws that it cited as critical in preventing automobile accidents. Florida had enacted only six of those 15 laws.
Casey Wilson welcomes a law that would allow officers to ticket for texting, as well as other measures to make it safer for his crew on the road.
“It needs to happen,” said the vice president of Jeff Wilson Pool Service. “It’s getting too dangerous out there.”
The Naples firm has a fleet of 40 vehicles. Its insurance provider takes the issue seriously, requiring all employees of Jeff Wilson Pool Service to sign a sheet in the employee handbook acknowledging the policy on using mobile devices.
Some firms are using technology to curb the urge to text.
Bay Area Pool Service, which handles around 8,000 pools along the state’s west coast, has set up its communication system so techs don’t receive texts on their phone. Instead, each staffer in the field is equipped with a tablet. Messages are sent via an email-style system to the tablets, and the techs are instructed to retrieve messages only when they’re parked at a job site. They are required to input certain information after each job is finished, providing the ideal time to check messages.
“That information gets to them on the tablets, so it’s not something where they have to worry about checking their cell phones,” said Gary Crayton III, CEO. “The cell phone is there for an emergency or any time they need poolside help, but the tablets have really cut down on how much we’ve had to utilize those.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving killed 3,328 people in 2012.