TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (May 24, 2019) – Florida Governor Ron Desantis signed a bill on Friday, May 17th toughening Florida’s prohibitions on texting while driving.
Starting January 1, 2020, Florida police can stop and ticket drivers for texting while they’re behind the wheel of a moving car, with limited exceptions.
Drivers can still use their phone while their car if stopped, and, while stopped, can use their phones to navigate, make phone calls, and read emergency messages.
Texting while driving has been illegal in Florida for years, however, the ban was rarely enforced since police haven’t been able to stop people for it.
The official January 1, 2020 start date allows drivers time to get adjusted to the new law, said Bob Cortes of the Seminole County Sheriff’s office.
“Between the months of October and December, law enforcement can pull someone over, but at that point all they would be able to issue is a written or verbal warning only. and that’s part of the educational process the legislature wants us to use,” said Cortes.
The only exception is in school and work zones, where drivers are not allowed to handle their phones except for emergencies. That provision takes effect Oct. 1, but police will only stop and warn drivers about this part of the new law up until Jan. 1, 2020. At that point, police will start issuing tickets in school and work zones for drivers who handle their phones but aren’t necessarily texting.
The bill overcame objections from black lawmakers who feared it could lead to increased racial profiling. Florida Representative Al Jacquet, (D-Lantana), said making texting while driving a primary offense would mean more people of color would be unfairly targeted by police.
In response to these concerns, this year’s law passed with two important provisions:
- Police have to record the race and ethnicity of each driver they ticket and send that information to the state, so officials can see whether the new law is being applied unevenly.
- Furthermore, to prevent police from using a stop as a means to search a driver’s phone, police must inform drivers that they have the right to decline a search of their phone.
Some say the new law doesn’t go far enough and that the penalties are still too weak. Driving while texting in Florida is only a $30 fine plus court fees for a first offense. For a second offense, it’s $60, plus court fees and three points on a driver’s record. Texting within a school or work zone carries points on the first offense.
In 2018, 170 crashes in Florida were attributed to drivers texting while driving.
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