Florida police can stop drivers for texting under new law
Thousands of traffic deaths and distracted-driving crashes later, Florida has joined most states by enacting a new law that strengthens penalties for texting while driving.
The measure that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in May permits police to stop drivers simply for texting alone, the Naples Daily News reported in an Associated Press story.
Currently, officers can cite drivers for texting — as well as emailing and other forms of typing on a mobile device — only if they are pulled over for another violation.
"It is almost impossible to enforce texting while driving as a secondary offense," Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells told the Naples Daily News. "Making texting while driving a primary offense will allow law enforcement to enforce the law and to save a lot of lives.”
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported more than 51,000 crashes involving distracted drivers statewide last year. The number of traffic fatalities in Florida has topped 3,000 each year since 2016. Law-enforcement officials said the statistics are due in part to distracted driving, according to a Sarasota Herald-Tribune story.
How the statewide texting ban may prevent crashes
The law takes effect on July 1, 2019, but warnings only will be given until Jan. 1, 2020, when officers can begin writing citations.
The penalties stay the same despite the change. A first offense would be a noncriminal traffic infraction and net a $30 fine. A second violation, if it occurs within five years of the first, would be considered a moving violation and bring a $60 fine.
Motorists violating Florida’s new texting and driving law would also face court costs and penalties attached to their driving licenses.
The six months between the law taking effect and its enforcement is intended to allow for a campaign to inform the public about the changes.
The new law will also ban the use of any handheld wireless communications devices in school and construction zones. Hands-free uses remain legal.
Even the new law that makes texting while driving a primary offense, meaning, again, that it lets police stop drivers for texting alone, will be difficult to enforce. That’s because, as with the seat belt law, police must see the violation occurring while they are on the scene but are often themselves driving.
Florida’s new texting and driving law is a step in the right direction to try to improve, police said.
Florida was among a handful of states that didn't make texting while driving a primary offense, leaving South Dakota, Ohio and Nebraska as the only states that make texting while driving a secondary offense. Missouri bans texting for drivers younger than 21. Montana has no ban on texting while driving, according to the Naples Daily News.
During deliberations about the new law, one concern was that the measure would give law enforcement another way to target black drivers. Language to help with accountability was included in Florida’s new texting and driving law. The language requires that police in making such traffic stops record the race and ethnicity of violators and report the data to the governor, House speaker and Senate president.
Contact David J. Glatthorn Personal Injury Law today for help with cases related to Florida’s new texting and driving law and for help with car and truck crashes, negligent security claims, and wrongful death lawsuits.