Florida Becomes Newest State to Pass Distracted Driving Law and Here’s Why
Florida has recently become the latest state to make texting while driving a primary traffic offense, meaning law enforcement can now pull over drivers just for texting and driving (rather then citing them for texting while driving after pulling them over for some other reason). The new law also bans the use smartphone devices in construction and school zones.
Read on to get the answers you need about Florida’s new texting and driving laws.
Previously, law enforcement officers could only give drivers a ticket for texting if they were pulled over for another violation. This new law now allows officers to stop drivers specifically for texting while behind the wheel.
According to the Florida statute, the new law is meant to:
- Increase safety for all drivers, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other people using the roads.
- Prevent motor vehicle crashes caused by texting and driving.
- Decrease injuries, deaths, property damage, healthcare costs, health insurance rates, and auto insurance rates that are increased due to the costs of motor vehicle accidents.
Why was this new law necessary?
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis said, ”Studies have shown that texting while driving is one of the worst of all driving distractions and a recent study ranked Florida as the second worst state for distracted driving, It’s my hope that by taking action to address distracted drivers today, that we will be able to make our roads safer and hopefully prevent some of these crashes that we’ve seen, injuries and, unfortunately, some of the deaths that we’ve seen.”
In 2016, the most recent year that statistics are gathered for, shows that Florida had nearly 50,000 accidents caused by distracted driving. Of these tens-of-thousands of accidents, 233 resulted in death.
As it stood, enforcing Florida’s previous texting and driving law as a secondary offense was difficult to enforce. If an officer saw someone driving while on their phone, they would have to be speeding or breaking some other law at the same time to make a stop. Making texting while driving a primary offense will now allow law enforcement to enforce the law much more easily by stopping them strictly for driving unsafely by being on their phone.
How much will a Florida distracted driving citation cost?
A first offense for texting and driving is punishable by a $30 fine, with a second costing citation costing $60. Points will also be added to a violator’s license and court costs could increase the price of a fine to $108.
What does the new law cover and what doesn’t count?
The new law does not apply to a driver who is using their phone for navigation or who its using an actual navigation system, either built in or external.
Drivers are allowed to use their phone or device while stopped for any reason, which includes red lights or stop signs.
But the new law also a big loophole that may cause some serious problems: how does an officer prove the infraction?
In order to charge anyone with a crime, even a traffic citation, the officer must prove that an offense occurred. Therefore, an officer would have to prove that the driver was illegally texting behind the wheel. To get this proof, the officer would have to check your phone.
But this is considered a search and you have the right to refuse a search of your property. If you refuse to hand over your phone for a search, then there is not much more the police officer can do to prove the offense.
How this will be handled is yet to be seen.
Concerns that Florida New Distracted Driving Law Will Disproportionately Affect People of Color
Some people have raised concerns that the new law might disproportionately affect people of color. A group of black Florida lawmakers opposed the new law, worried that it might lead to racial profiling. Representative Al Jacquet, said that the new law would result in more people of color being targeted by police.
To help monitor this, the law includes a requirement that police track the race of people stopped for texting while driving.
Answering Your Questions about the New Distracted Driving Law
Here are the answers to some of the most common questions about Florida’s new law.
Can an officer issue a warning for texting and driving and do they count against my driving record?
Yes, an officer has the power to issue a warning for breaking the law traffic law, just they can for speeding or not wearing your seatbelt. If you are issued a warning, it does not count against your driving record.
Can I hold my phone to talk while driving?
Yes, drivers can hold their phone to talk while driving. But this can be dangerous, so if possible, always use a hands-free device.
Does the school zone or construction zone statute say anything else I should know?
Piggy backing off the previous question, drivers should know that holding your phone to talk does not apply to school zones or construction zone with workers present. Again, this is just good practice for safe driving so if your car does not have Bluetooth hands-free phone capabilities, an adapter can be purchased for a reasonable cost.
Can I use earphone to talk on the phone?
Yes, but you can only have an ear bud in one ear. Having something is both ears could limit your ability to hear traffic or emergency vehicles.
Can I text at a stoplight or stop sign?
The texting and driving law only applies to a car that is in motion. You cannot be stopped texting or using your smart device at a stop light, stop sign, or any other time your car is not in motion. One caveat to this is that a driver can be cited for impeding the flow of traffic because they are distracted by their phone. We recommend you wait until you reach your destination to use your phone.
Can I use my phone for any other reason besides texting while driving?
No. Using social media, emailing, or any other use of your phone, besides GPS reasons, are considered distracted and can result in a citation.
If using my phone is distracting, what about eating or doing my makeup?
There is currently no Florida law prevents a driver from eating, drinking, or putting on makeup while driving. However, if one of these activities causes you to be distracted and commit some other infraction (which it likely will) then of course, an officer can conduct a traffic stop and issue you a ticket.
What are the penalties for violating the law?
As we mentioned above, your first offense will get you a $30 fine. Any second or subsequent offenses within a 5 year period will result in a moving violation which will result in 3 points on your license and a $60 fine.
Can a police officer confiscate your phone to prove a violation or if they write you a ticket?
Police cannot ask you for your phone or take your phone to see if you were texting or using social media. However, an officer’s testimony to what they saw ( the offense) is admissible as evidence. Officers are trained to identify a driver who is typing or texting.
Were you injured by a distracted driver? Viles and Beckman can help.
If you were injured in an auto accident caused by a distracted driver, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your damages and injuries. Contact the experienced motor vehicle accident attorneys at Viles & Beckman today by either filling out our online contact form or by calling us at (239) 334-3933 for a free case evaluation. We look forward to helping you and your family get through this stressful time as successfully as possible while getting back to normal as much as possible.
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