Florida has finally fallen in line with the overwhelming majority of other states by making texting while driving a primary traffic offense. The law goes into effect July 1, 2019.
The bill was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on May 17, 2019. Making texting while driving a primary offense means that police can soon make a traffic stop on the reasonable belief that a driver was messaging or emailing on a mobile device. The new law also prohibits the use of a handheld cell phone when operating any motor vehicle at any school crossing, school zone or construction zone.
Under the current statute, police can only cite drivers for texting while driving if they’re stopped for a different violation. That makes it a mere secondary violation and nearly impossible to enforce.
Texting while driving requires diversion of a driver’s physical, mental and visual capacities from the roadway. Those are the same three senses that are used to drive. When signing the new law at a Sarasota high school, the governor said that “Studies have shown that texting while driving is one of the worst of all driving distractions, and a recent study ranked Florida as the second worst state for distracted driving.” He went on to say that “It’s my hope that by taking action to address distracted drivers today, that we will be able to make our roads safer and hopefully prevent some of these crashes that we’ve seen, injuries and unfortunately, some of the deaths that we’ve seen.”
Governor DeSantis remarked that in 2016, Florida had nearly 50,000 distracted driving accidents that caused 233 deaths. Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells said that “Making texting while driving a primary offense will allow law enforcement to enforce the law and to save a lot of lives.”
Under the new law, texting at a stop light or when a vehicle isn’t in motion is not an offense. Emergency personnel are exempted from the statute. Citizens who are reporting an emergency or a crime to police along with drivers who receive messages involving the navigation or operation of their vehicles along with safety information like emergency traffic or weather alerts are also exempted.
A first violation of the new texting while driving law won’t be a moving violation. It’s punishable by a fine of $30 plus court costs and fees upon a conviction for a first violation. The fine doubles on a second violation within five years of the first, and the offense will be considered to be a moving violation. In either case, three points will be assessed against a person’s driver’s license.
The prohibition on texting while driving in school and work zones will be enforced beginning October 1, 2019. Warning tickets will be issued until January 1, 2020. Only South Dakota, Nebraska and Ohio remain as states where texting while driving is still a secondary offense. Missouri prohibits texting while driving by anybody under 21 years of age, and in Montana, texting while driving remains perfectly legal.