Florida's New Texting While Driving Law Goes Into Effect January 1, 2020
Original Story 12/18/2018: This story has been updated to reflect new Florida laws.
You’re driving along I-4, and spot a car up ahead swerving recklessly between lanes. You speed up to get a look inside the vehicle, completely expecting to see a bottle of liquor in the driver’s hand. Instead of a bottle, you see only a cell phone, the driver’s thumbs typing away as a text message is drafted.
Now, if you’d seen a bottle in the driver’s hand, you’d be outraged and may even call it in. But noting that they’re simply texting, you just roll your eyes and continue on your way. That’s because, despite the known dangers of distracted driving, texting while driving is almost considered socially acceptable. According to a recent study, 92% of us drove while texting in the last 30 days! But times are changing, and Florida—where texting and driving was considered a secondary offense—has recently joined the majority of the country by classifying texting and driving as a primary offense.
Is Texting While Driving Worse Than Drinking and Driving?
Today, it’s estimated that 660,000 drivers are using their cell phone or mobile device while driving at any given time, and it’s costing lives. Distracted driving accounts for approximately 25% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities, and according to Florida government estimates, texting while driving claims more than 17 lives in the Sunshine State alone every month. Some people even believe texting while driving is worse than drinking and driving.
On that note, Car and Driver Magazine set out to prove just how dangerous texting while driving can be. In a test conducted on a deserted air strip, an unimpaired driver, a legally drunk driver (BAC of .08), a driver reading an email, and a texting driver were instructed to reach a speed of 70mph in a car rigged with a light telling them when to brake. The results were eye-opening—and frightening.
Unimpaired: .54 seconds to brake
Legally drunk: add 4 feet
Reading email: add 36 feet
Sending a text: add 70 feet
Florida Laws on Texting While Driving
During the 2018 legislative session, the House voted 112-2 in favor of House Bill 33, which would have made texting and driving a primary offense in Florida. However, the Senate indefinitely postponed and withdrew HB 33 from consideration after it died with the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.
But in July 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that allows law enforcement officers to pull over drivers for texting and driving. Officers have only been able to issue warnings since then, but on January 1, 2020, the new law goes into effect and makes texting and driving a primary offense (previously, it was considered a secondary offense, and an officer could only pull over an individual for texting and driving if they were committing another traffic offense at the same time, such a speeding).
There a few exceptions to the law, such as using a handheld device to report an emergency or a crime; sending or receiving messages about the operation of the vehicle; viewing a public safety alert; or using the device as a GPS for navigation. Drivers of emergency vehicles (law enforcement, fire and rescue, medics) will also be exempt from the law.
A few more important things to note:
- Police officers cannot cite a driver from texting when not moving, for example at a traffic light or toll booth, as the vehicle must be in motion when the texting occurs. If a driver holds up traffic by texting, however, such as at a stop sign, they can be cited for impeding the flow of traffic.
- Police officers are not allowed to ask for or take a driver’s phone to see if they were texting on a traffic stop. Since 2013, officers have been trained to identify when a driver is typing into a wireless device.
- Drivers can continue to hold a device in their hand to talk on the phone except in school zones and active work zones, though we don’t recommend it.
Florida Texting While Driving Fines
Beginning January 1, 2020, the following fines and points will be implemented:
- First offense: Non-moving traffic violation (no points) and a $30 fine.
- Second and subsequent offenses within a five-year period: Moving violation (3 points) and a $60 fine.
It’s important to remember that these fines do not include court costs and other fee imposed by the clerk of court, which could result in first offense costing upwards of $120 and subsequent offenses costing upwards of $170.
Distracted Driving Attorney Services
Distracted driving is a big problem, and until vehicles are completely autonomous, it will likely continue to be that way even with fines and points being imposed; however, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. While some see the bill as simply giving law enforcement just another reason to pull people over; most have witnessed the dangers of texting and driving first-hand and understand that the goal is to save lives. If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by driver inattention, our Spring Hill-area personal injury attorney services can help to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.
Contact Lowman Law Firm today for your free consultation.