Mental Lethargy

“Mental Lethargy”. What is this exactly? This morning, I read an old 1950’s case from the Florida Supreme Court wherein the court referenced a certain “mental lethargy” by motor vehicle drivers that produced an appalling accident rate. It made me think, what did the Florida Supreme Court justices think constituted such “mental lethargy”? In the fifties, would this be conversing with your passengers, looking out the window, or even daydreaming? Would listening to the radio or messing with its dial constitute a “mentally lethargic” act? And how would those judges view the distractions of today’s drivers – cell phones, texting, Facebook messaging, DVD players, MP3 players, Navigation systems…

In our ever evolving times, the judicial system is forced to keep up with technological advances where the legislature lags behind. Florida is an excellent example of a legislature woefully behind the times on this issue. While nearly 30 states have instituted various bans on using handheld cellular telephones or text messaging, Florida’s legislature remains silent on the issue therefore requiring judges to forge new territory. In Florida, at least, the issue arises in the context of an automobile accident where considerations of a driver’s cellular phone usage play a critical role in considering whether he safely operated the vehicle. In those cases, the court cannot point to a specific statutory violation and must determine whether, in the words of the 50’s Florida Supreme Court, the driver was exercising “the slightest attention to his surroundings…”

Interestingly, younger drivers seem confident in their ability to overcome such “mental lethargy” by multi-tasking and dividing their attention between such complex activities as texting, talking to their passengers, listening to the radio and, dare I say, DRIVING! Nevertheless, whether a younger generation possesses a seemingly superior mental vigor; until Florida’s legislature gets with the times, judicial maneuvering will have to suffice.

Author Kimberly Potter

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