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New Texting Law Goes Into Effect July 1st

It has been widely reported that texting while driving causes more teen deaths than even drunk driving.  Indeed, the CDC says, “Each day in the United States, approximately 9 people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver.”

Despite these shocking statistics, Florida has been slow to make texting while driving a primary offense.  A “primary offense” is one that can result in a citation without any other violation occurring.   Texting while driving was banned in Florida in 2013.  However, it was only a “secondary offense.” A law enforcement officer could not enforce the ban absent a primary offense that justified stopping the offending driver.   How effective was the 2013 ban?  Anyone who regularly drives in Florida knows the answer – it wasn’t.  By way of comparison, adult usage of seat belts in the front seat became a primary offense in Florida a decade ago.  It has been very effective.

As a result of the recent legislative session, texting while driving is now a primary offense as well.  Fines for violating the new texting ban do not take effect immediately. There will first be an educational campaign, with warnings issued through the end of the calendar year.  Fines will begin on January 1, 2020.  For a first-time offender, the fine is $30.  As with any citation, there can also be associated court costs.  A second offense within five years will result in a $60 fine, court costs, and 3 points on the driver’s license.  Hopefully, these penalties, along with the prospect of increased insurance premiums, will cause drivers to rethink the dangerous practice of texting while driving.

Some opposed the new law for fear of racial profiling.  This led to including a provision that requires law enforcement to report the race and ethnicity of anyone cited.  Such data will be analyzed to see if profiling is occurring.  There will be annual reports of statewide arrests submitted to the Governor, Senate president, and House speaker starting February 1, 2020.

When the new law was being debated, some Florida legislators wanted even broader provisions requiring all phone usage by a driver to be hands-free.  The current law allows drivers to use their phones when the vehicle is “stationary,” such as at a traffic light.  Drivers can also talk on their phones at any time, although hands-free devices are required in school zones and work zones.  Currently, there is not enough support in the legislature for a requirement that all phone usage be hands-free, but proponents vow not to let the issue drop.

When Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law on May 17, 2019, Florida became the 44th state to make texting while driving a primary offense.  The law goes into effect on July 1, 2019.  Let’s hope it makes our roads safer.

Article by Partner Mickey Smith

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