Florida’s new texting and driving law is now in effect. Here’s what you need to know before you get behind the wheel.
Florida drivers have been warned to put their phones down after a new law went into effect Monday prohibiting texting and driving. The reality is, however, the law is more complex than it appears.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that officially makes texting while driving in Florida a primary traffic offense. Now, officers are able to pull you over if they see you texting behind the wheel, whereas in the past they needed you to first speed or commit a traffic violation to be able to flash their lights and bring you to a stop.
The first offense for texting behind the wheel comes with a $30 fine and a second offense is $60 and three points to your license. However, unlike Georgia’s “Hands Free Law,” there are many loopholes in Florida’s first step toward major roadway change.
In Georgia, if the phone is in your hand you are pulled over, no questions asked. It’s strict, it’s often your word against the officer and the officer almost always wins. You can’t even have the phone in your lap or in a pocket.
The goal is to have complete focus on the road and the verbiage throughout the law supports that hard line.
The recently passed texting initiative is one of 20 new laws to go into effect this week throughout the state of Florida.
The new Florida law comes with exceptions. The law states, “a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition in this paragraph.” So if you’re paused at a red light or stop sign you, can pick it up to quickly respond to a text. Once the gas pedal goes down, though, the phone had better be put away.
The law also states that drivers are exempt if they’re “conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require manual entry of multiple letters, numbers, or symbols, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function.”
Essentially, you can still use your phone to use your GPS or change music. You just can’t type out elaborate messages and then send them while barreling 70 miles per hour down the roadway.
The only hard lines are if you are in a school zone or a construction zone. Then your phone had better not be in sight or else you will pay the price, though hands-free use like Bluetooth communication is still allowed.
In fact, officers across the state recommend drivers purchase mounts for their phones to ensure the temptation of holding it while you drive is eliminated.
The problem is, if you’re pulled over and an officer accuses you of texting and driving, the current law doesn’t give them permission to confiscate your phone to prove there is evidence supporting their claim. Without a warrant, they can’t take the phone away unless you give it to them. That doesn’t mean they won’t get a warrant, but it does mean they don’t have one when they first walk up to your window.
It’s your word versus the officer’s and only time will tell how Florida’s new driving culture lets that play out.
It could go in the driver’s favor, but it may also show overwhelming support for law enforcement.
As of yet, the state doesn’t have the zero-tolerance policy of states like Georgia and Tennessee, but this is a giant step in that direction.
Without having to wait for a primary offense, officers can start letting drivers know they’re taking road safety seriously. Out the gate, most law enforcement agencies have stated they will begin with warnings to get people used to the change.
With the increasing number of fatalities every year caused by distracted driving, it’s no wonder states are starting to crack down on their rules of the road.
This isn’t the first time Florida has addressed multitasking drivers, but it is the first time the power has been given to officers to actively combat the issue. If enough people recognize their pocketbooks will begin to hurt due to their carelessness, there is a chance it may convince many to switch to Bluetooth or to simply wait until stopped to continue their conversations.
For now, however, it seems there’s still some gray area concerning just how far Florida is prepared to go.