Florida’s New Texting and Driving Law: Good Intentions may Lead to Serious Consequences
We’re all likely guilty of breaking this new Florida traffic Law.
Every once in a while, even the safest of drivers divert their attention from the road to their phone screen when a new text message pops up.
Whether it’s responding to an email or checking who saw your last Instagram story, most of us have tried to navigate traffic or change lanes while looking at our cell phone screens.
Back on July 1, 2019, a new Florida Law, which made texting and driving a primary offense, came into effect. This means police officers can now pull you over for just texting. In the past, texting and driving was a secondary offense and people could not be stopped for doing it alone. You needed to commit a specific traffic violation before being stopped and pulled over by law enforcement.
With the start of 2020, Florida police officers have finished their period of informing and educating the public about the new law. As of Jan. 1, police officers will now be enforcing the law and pulling people over for texting while driving.
Florida’s texting and driving ban can prevent many accidents from occurring and can save many lives. According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in 2017 there were more than 50,000 accidents caused by drivers being distracted by their phones from texting, GPS tracking and social media updates.
To be pulled over for texting and driving, a person must actually have their phone in their hand. According to the 2019 Florida Statute, a person cannot drive while “manually typing or entering letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters” into a phone. Similarly, they must not be using “communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, or instant messaging.”
“Section 316.305, Florida Statutes allows law enforcement to stop motor vehicles and issue citations to motorists that are texting and driving. A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers or symbols into a wireless communications device to text, email and instant message,” according to FLHSMV.
Consequences for violating the no texting and driving law in Florida
A first offense for texting and driving can result in a $30 fine, while a second offense may result in a $60 fine. Additionally, points will be added to people’s licenses and court costs may increase the fine to $108.
Unintended consequences of Florida’s new texting and driving law
Although this law is well-intentioned and will certainly save lives, from the perspective of a criminal defense law firm, we have some reservations about the law.
There is no real, accurate way to prove a person was on their phone at the time they were pulled over — body cameras would not be enacted until the actual stop. This gives police officers leeway to pull people over and cite the reason as texting, even if this was not truly the case. This could potentially turn into rouse to pull people over and start late night DUI investigations, leading to the illegal arrests of hundreds of people.
Ten years ago, our firm saw the same situation — arrests without enough probable cause — happen when failure to wear your seatbelt became a primary offense. We had a sudden increase in criminal and DUI cases where our clients emphatically stated that they were wearing their seatbelt, only to have an officer say otherwise.
Similarly, this new law raises many questions in regard to factoring race and ethnicity into police arrests. According to the Sun Sentinel, after the law changed for wearing seatbelts, more than 50% of the tickets for not wearing a seatbelt were given to persons who are black by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. This is extremely disproportionate when only 30% of Broward County is black, as the last census reported. This trend towards race-based policing, or other prejudices, may be the case for some people as this new texting and driving law takes effect.
Tips to avoid texting and driving
To avoid texting and driving:
- Try putting your phone in a place that you can’t easily reach when you first get into the car. Placing your phone out of reach will stop you from going on your phone at all.
- You can also set your phone on do not disturb while you are driving, so that new messages and notifications don’t take your attention away from the road.
- If you do need to use your phone in the case of an emergency, you should use voice-activation or Siri to make calls and send texts so that you don’t remove your hands from the wheels.
What to do if cited for texting and driving
If you are pulled over by police and cited for texting and driving, you should always be calm and polite to the police. You have the right not to say anything to them, and you should not feel pressured into admitting guilt.
No not hand your phone over to the police. You have the right to say no, and can inform the officers that you have the right not to consent to a search of your personal device unless they have a search warrant.
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