Finally Time to Put the Cell Phone Down?

by Daniel Leising
05/14/19

Texting While Driving in Florida

Admit it or not, we have all done it. Driving to work, the store, any trip really. You look down at your phone to see a text message has been received. You look at that message and likely send a response. This may continue intermittently or constantly on your journey. During the messaging frenzy, your eyes have been affixed to your phone, ignorant of the cars, pedestrians, and obstacles that you may have (luckily) missed on the way. In addition to texting, the temptation of Twitter, Facebook, and general web browsing all beckon as you look at your screen.

Dangers of Texting and Driving

While phone use while driving has become such a common practice, many are unaware of the true dangers of this activity. Just look at the statistics:

  • The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
  • Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving.
  • 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving.
  • Texting while driving is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
  • Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to travel the length of a football field.
  • Texting while driving causes a 400% increase in time spent with eyes off the road.
  • Of all cell phone related tasks, texting is by far the most dangerous activity.
  • 94% of drivers support a ban on texting while driving.
  • 74% of drivers support a ban on hand-held cell phone use.

Florida Texting Law

Under current Florida law, a driver cannot be pulled over for texting and driving. It is not a “primary” offense like speeding or running a red light. However, if during the course of being pulled over for a primary offense, you are seen using your cell phone, you can be written a ticket for its use as a “secondary” offense. Such tickets are rarely issued, however, as evidenced by the fact that for a firm that does a high volume of traffic ticket defense, we virtually never see texting citations.

Many states have already banned texting and driving. Florida has been one of the longest holdouts when it comes to considering an outright ban on this dangerous practice, but it may not be much longer that this is the case as it appears the law is soon going to change. Recently, the Florida House of Representatives passed House Bill 107 (2019). One of the provisions in this bill would make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that law enforcement would be able to make a traffic stop based on seeing you texting while driving and nothing more.

If passed, Florida will become the 44th state to impose such a ban, and the following rules and exceptions will apply:

  • The law will go into effect July 1, 2019, but the state will run a campaign to inform people of the new law, and then officers will write warning tickets for a few months.
  • Starting January 1, 2020, drivers can be pulled over just for being on their phones while driving. They will face fines of $30-$100, plus court costs and three points on your license, which can be eliminated by passing a safe driving class.
  • Police must get your permission to check your phone, otherwise they need a warrant. They cannot check your phone records through your mobile provider unless there is a crash where someone is killed or injured.
  • The law does not apply when your vehicle is stopped.
  • The law does not apply when using maps or navigation.
  • There are exceptions for using your phone for safety alerts, like traffic and weather, or for using your phone to call.
  • You are also exempted from the law if you are using your phone to call police or report an emergency.
  • When driving in school and work zones, you cannot be on your phone at all, and must use a hands-free device.

The Governor will of course have to sign this bill into law. As of this writing, it is not clear if the bill has yet hit his desk for his consideration and signature. There are a flurry of bills that hit his desk at the end of every legislative session, so it is tough to know the exact date he may sign it. It seems very likely he will sign this legislation, but of course he could choose to veto it.

Texting and Driving Florida Lawyers

Should this law pass and you be cited for texting and driving, please be sure to contact our office. Since this law will be new, it will be interesting to see how strictly it is going to be enforced in terms of number of citations issued as well as variations in fines and costs. As is the case with all of the traffic cases we handle, we will be sure to look for any and all challenges and defenses to this law.

While a traffic offense may seem minor in nature, penalties such as points and convictions can lead to insurance premium increases or even license suspensions in extreme scenarios. Additionally, the amount of fines and court costs can be great depending on the violation and the outcome of the hearing. Please let our team of dedicated defense attorneys help you with these matters to hopefully avoid any serious penalties. Quite often, we can avoid the imposition of points as well as negotiate a reduced fine. In the best case scenario, we may even be able to get your ticket dismissed.

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