Written on Dec 16, 2019 4:00:05 PM
Florida's Texting While Driving 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. Today, in an attempt to get drivers to put down that phone, Florida classifies 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 phones 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 airstrip, 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. On January 1, 2020, the bill became law, making 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 as speeding.
Drivers of emergency vehicles (law enforcement, fire and rescue, medics) are of course exempt from the law. However, a few exemptions exist for regular citizens if they're using their mobile device for the following:
- To report an emergency or a crime
- To send or receive messages about the operation or safety of the vehicle
- To view a public safety alert (amber/silver alerts, weather alerts, etc.)
- To navigate using GPS
A few more important things to note:
- Police officers cannot cite a driver for 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 during 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
The following fines and points will be imposed on those found texting while driving:
- 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 fees imposed by the clerk of court, which could result in the first offense costing upwards of $120 and subsequent offenses costing upwards of $170.
Distracted Driving Attorney Services for Personal Injury
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 personal injury attorney services can help to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. Our auto accident attorneys serve all of Florida, with offices in Citrus County, Hernando County, Hillsborough County, and Pasco County. Not able to come to us? We’ll come to you! We offer free home and hospital consultations. And, there’s never a fee until you win your case.