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 on July 1, 2019.
Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill 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.
Currently, 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. We use the same three senses 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 stoplight or when a vehicle isn’t in motion is not an offense. The statute exempts emergency personnel. Similarly, the law exempts people who are reporting emergencies or crimes to law enforcement, receiving messages from the navigation, safety and weather alerts.
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. Your second violation within five years of the first violation becomes a moving violation and the fine doubles. In either case, you will receive three points on your driver’s license.
The prohibition on texting while driving in school and work zones will be enforced beginning October 1, 2019. Law enforcement will issue warning tickets until January 1, 2020. Only South Dakota, Nebraska, and Ohio remain as states where texting while driving is still a secondary offense. Yet, Missouri prohibits texting while driving by anybody under 21 years of age. Although, texting while driving remains perfectly legal in Montana.