Florida Texting While Driving Laws May Be Changing
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, texting while driving is illegal in 14 states, and Florida may be the next state to join this list.
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
Currently, the Sunshine State considers texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning that drivers can be cited for using a device but only if they’re stopped for another traffic infraction, such as speeding or not wearing a seatbelt (and the fine is a measly $20, not enough to deter most people). That may be changing if Senate Bill 76 goes into effect. SB 76 will authorize law enforcement officials to stop a driver and issue a citation for using a mobile device as a primary offense.
If you’re thinking to yourself, hasn’t this come up before?, you’d be correct. 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, despite support from Governor Rick Scott.
Senate Bill 76 on Texting and Driving
But SB 76 is bringing it back to the table. "It is the intent of the Legislature to prevent crashes related to the act of using a wireless communications device while driving a motor vehicle," reads SB 76. "A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data or listening or talking on such a device."
Notable exceptions include 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. In addition, drivers could continue to receive calls and use devices through hands-free options, such as through their vehicle's Bluetooth.
The Florida Legislative Session which includes SB 76 is scheduled to begin on March 5, 2019. We’ll keep you posted on the outcome of the session.
Distracted Driving Attorney Services
Distracted driving is a big problem, and until vehicles are completely autonomous, it will likely continue to be that way without legislation like SB 76. The bill doesn’t aim to give law enforcement just another reason to pull people over; its 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.