Florida Hits the Gas on Tougher Texting While Driving Laws
18.7 billion text messages are sent worldwide every day. We use text messaging to check in on friends, keep track of our kids, and even book appointments. The technology clearly makes it easier to stay connected.
But when we send (or receive) those text messages while we’re driving, the consequences can be dangerous, even deadly. In 2016, 3,477 people died and 391,000 were injured in car crashes caused by drivers who were texting behind the wheel.
Texting while driving has been illegal in Florida since 2013, and the law is about to get even tougher. Read on for more information about the Sunshine State’s texting while driving laws.
In 2013, the Florida legislature passed a law that made it illegal to text while driving. And for good reason. In 2017, there were 50,285 distracted driving crashes in Florida. Crashes caused by distracted drivers have increased by 28 percent since 2013. In fact, since 2013, distracted driving crashes consistently account for approximately 12 percent of all crashes.
The law as it stands today only allows law enforcement officers to ticket a driver for texting if that officer pulls the driver over for another violation first. It’s called a “secondary offense.”
Let’s say a state trooper spots a driver weaving in and out of his lane. The officer pulls him over for that and then discovers the driver was texting. The officer can ticket the driver for texting.
By contrast, let’s say a police officer pulls up next to a car at a stop light, glances over and sees the driver is clearly typing something into his cell phone. Other than that, the driver is obeying all traffic laws. The officer can’t pull the driver over just for texting.
But, that’s about to change.
New Texting While Driving Laws
In April of 2019, the Florida legislature passed a bill that will make texting while driving a primary offense. That means law enforcement officers will be able to ticket a driver solely for texting behind the wheel. The officer will not need another reason to pull him over.
The new law also creates a so-called “hands-free” area in school zones and construction zones where workers are present. This means anyone using a cell phone in one of these areas must use a hands-free device when talking.
The law takes effect on July 1, 2019. But, it will be phased in over time. Between the day the law takes effect and the end of the year, law enforcement officers will issue verbal or written warnings to drivers caught texting while driving.
On January 1, 2020, officers will begin writing tickets.
Penalties for Texting While Driving
Drivers who are ticketed for texting while driving can have three points assessed against their license. However, first-time offenders will have a way to avoid those points and the likely hike in their insurance rates.
They can choose to participate in a wireless communications device driving safety program. If they successfully complete the program, the points and any fees will be waived. It’s similar to the program that allows drivers to avoid points on their license by taking a drivers education course after they’re caught speeding.
The penalties will be the same as they were when texting while driving was considered a secondary offense. It’s a noncriminal traffic infraction. That means you won’t go to jail if you get caught. You will pay a $30 fine plus court costs for a first violation.
A second violation within five years is considered a moving violation. That will cost you a $60 fine plus court costs and fees. You’ll also be assessed three points against your license.
Points are what the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles gives you when you break the motor vehicle laws. You can get points for things like speeding, passing a stopped school bus and running a red light.
The more serious a violation, the more points you get. For example, leaving the scene of a crash will earn you six points. Reckless driving will get you four points.
Reckless driving charges can have even more serious consequences, including potential jail time. You can also lose your drivers license if serious injury or death resulted from your reckless driving.
To be clear, points on your license are bad. They can have a terrible effect on your car insurance rates. Every insurance company calculates them differently, so it’s important to check your own policy. By way of an example, one company calculates the points for texting while driving will increase your insurance rate by 23%, or $344.
If you earn 12 or more points in a 12-month period, FLHSMV can suspend your license.
The Dangers of Texting And Driving
Numbers don’t lie, and the stats on texting while driving are frightening. Every day in the U.S., nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashed caused by distracted drivers.
19% of drivers even admit to surfing the web while driving!
Texting is arguably the most dangerous distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. If you’re driving 55 mph, you could cover the length of a football field in that amount of time.
In Florida, the counties with the most distracted driving crashes and citations were: Alachua, Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Marion, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, and Seminole.
Florida isn’t alone in cracking down on texting and driving. Forty-seven states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam all banned texting while driving. 16 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam ban drivers from hand-held device use.
Under Florida’s texting while driving laws, drivers are still allowed to text if they’re stopped at a red light or a stop sign. But, play it safe and pull over if you must read or send a text message while you’re on the road.
If you’ve gotten a ticket for texting while driving, you’ll want to consult with an attorney who can advise you. Contact us for a free consultation with a Florida lawyer. Florida Ticket Firm can help.