Texting while driving will soon become a primary offense in the State of Florida if a bill that the Senate recently passed is signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. If passed, this bill (HB107) would “prohibit a person from operating a motor vehicle while using a wireless communication device in a handheld manner in a designated school crossing, school zone or work zone.” Law enforcement officers would be authorized to issue warnings to persons who are driving while using a wireless communication device in a handheld manner in these areas, and after Jan. 1, 2020, these officers would be authorized to issues citations for this offense.
As it stands now, texting while driving is considered a secondary offense, which means you cannot be stopped for that alone, but if you are stopped for something else and happen to have been texting while driving at the time, you can be cited for it. If the bill passes, texting while driving becomes a primary offense, and you can be stopped and cited for texting, emailing, instant messaging, etc.
This does not apply to vehicles that are stationary, emergency vehicles, reporting an emergency or criminal activity, receiving messages related to navigation of the vehicle, wireless communication that does not require manual entry of multiple numbers or letters and wireless communication that does not require reading text messages except to activate, deactivate or initiate a function.
The House passed the bill with a vote of 108-7 last week, and Gov. DeSantis has indicated he will sign it. He has been supportive of the effort to enforce the ban on texting while driving but expressed concern about it. “This stuff has got to be enforceable,” he said. “If it’s a primary offense, then people are going to get pulled over. So you’ve got to make sure that is going to happen.
The more you go beyond texting, I just have concerns about the administratability of it.” If the bill passes, Florida will join 44 other states that already have laws against texting while driving.
“By strengthening the ban on texting while driving, Florida legislators are sending a strong message about this dangerous form of driver distraction,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “AAA has long advocated for comprehensive distracted driving legislation and this is a major step forward in improving the safety on Florida roads. Although this law may encourage a shift of habit to in-vehicle systems, drivers should know that voice-to-text technology can also be distracting. AAA urges drivers to focus on road and avoid any form of texting while behind the wheel.”
Dangers of distracted driving
• According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were more than 51,000 distracted driver-related traffic crashes in Florida last year.
• AAA research shows that people who text and drive are eight times more likely to be involved in a crash. The odds are twice as bad as talking on a handheld device.
• Five seconds is the average time a driver’s eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that would be the equivalent of driving the length of a football field — blind.
• A recent AAA study found that 78 percent of Americans say texting while driving is a significant danger; 35 percent admitted to doing it.
Rep. Emily Slosberg has been fighting for many years for tougher laws on texting while driving. Traffic safety is important to her because in 1996, her twin sister was killed in a traffic accident caused by a reckless driver. Five teens were killed that night, and Rep. Slosberg was seriously injured. The bill has faced opposition from black and Hispanic lawmakers, who fear it may lead to racial profiling. To address these concerns, an addition to the bill was made requiring law enforcement to record the race and ethnicity of violators.
Glades County Public Information Officer Duane Pottorff said they definitely have an issue with this in Glades County just as everywhere else in the state, and there have been multiple accidents involving texting while driving in Glades County. “I think it’s a good idea,” he said, but it will be hard to enforce unless we are driving alongside someone and actually see them texting.”
Sheriff Noel E. Stephen said, “Anything that’s going to assure that drivers are paying attention to what’s ahead of them will be of benefit to the traveling public. We will review the change in legislation, educate the public and conduct enforcement waves when the time comes.”