If you live and drive in Florida, a new law will soon take effect and it can have a dramatic effect on how you drive.
On May 17 Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the ‘Wireless Communication While Driving’ bill into law that would make driving while texting a primary offense. Before this bill, Florida was only one of a handful of states that had texting while driving not as a primary offense. That meant that police had to have another reason (such as speeding) for pulling over a person and ticketing them. With the new law, police will now be given the power to pull people over if and when they see people texting while driving.
The bill will kick into effect on July 1. However, the Florida legislature is giving drivers some time to get used to the new law. Police will not fine those they pull over for texting while driving until January of next year – they will just issue a warning. Once the fines kick in next year, a first violation will land a person a $30 fine plus court costs and fees. Subsequent violations within 5 years of the first violation carries a heavier fine of $60 plus court costs and fees. The bill will also prohibit people from using handheld wireless communications devices in construction and school zones.
Why The Change?
Unfortunately, Florida has been consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous states in which to drive, and a large reason for this has been attributed to texting while driving.
While signing the new bill, Gov. DeSantis stated just how serious the situation is, stating, “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. . . . 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.”
During the signing ceremony, Gov. DeSantis referenced a 2016 study by Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. According to the study, there were approximately 50,000 crashes involving a distracted driver. These crashes resulted in more than 3,500 injuries and over 230 deaths.
According to a South Florida Sun Sentinel analysis, the total number of vehicle crashes increased an incredible 11 percent between 2013 and 2016. Of that number, the number of crashes caused by distracted driving rose approximately 4 percent. This is despite the fact that the study accounted for the increased number of cars on the road. Further, up until this bill was passed, Florida had little information on just how big of a role texting while driving played. That is because police generally did not report whether a cell phone was involved in a crash unless someone was killed or seriously injured.
Researchers separate driver distractions into 3 separate categories. The first category is visual, which means taking your eyes off the road. The second is manual, which happens when you take your hands off the wheel. The last category is cognitive, which is when you are not actively paying attention to driving. Texting while driving is such a big issue because it involves all 3 categories of distracted driving. Further, unlike other issues, such as drunk driving, driving while texting is still largely, and unfortunately, seen as socially acceptable or understandable. The Florida Legislature is well aware of these statistics and attitudes and this bill is an attempt to try to solve the problem.
So What Exactly Will the New Anti-Texting Bill Do?
Here are five important concepts to know about the new law.
The first thing to know about this bill is that it only regulates handheld devices when a vehicle is being driven. If the vehicle is stationary or not being operated, it is not subject to the law. ‘Stationary’ means when the vehicle is not in motion.
A second important fact to know is that the bill will actually require police officers to record the race and ethnicity of the violators. While this aspect of the bill may sound weird, the language was introduced due to some legislatures’ concerns about racial profiling. While debating the language of the law, several legislatures expressed their concern that some police officers would use the bill to single certain races out. By recording the race and ethnicity of each violator, it is thought that it will allow the state government to oversee how the bill is used. The data will be analyzed and a report will be submitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, and the Governor.
A third important fact to know about this bill is that you will not need to hand over your phone absent a warrant. It is always important to know your rights. The new legislation requires that any time a police officer pulls over a driver, the officer must tell the driver of their right to refuse a search of their phone. The officer can only search a driver’s phone with a search warrant or consent.
There is, of course, always an exception. If a crash results in death or injury, a driver’s cellphone’s billing records will certainly be looked at and could be admitted as evidence.
A fourth thing to keep in mind is that this new law does not apply to hands-free devices. Thus, you can use your phone, so long as you have it attached to a hands-free device. For example, you will be able to use your phone for navigation purposes, or even talk, if you use it with a hands-free device. Further, given the language of the bill, it seems that technically if you text while stopped at a light, you will not be in violation of the law.
A fifth thing to know about this bill is that it excludes autonomous cars. While this aspect will most likely not impact anyone in the short-term, it can have important ramifications as autonomous cars become more and more prevalent in the future.
Florida Car Accident Lawyers
If you or a loved one is injured in a car accident that may have involved texting by a driver, including an Uber or Lyft driver, then are invited to call the Florida car accident attorneys at the Wolfson Law Firm with offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach. Since 1963, this personal injury law firm has fought for injured victims and the families impacted by fatal accidents. Referrals and requests for litigation co-counsel are always welcome. Call the Wolfson Law Firm at 305-285-1115 for your free consultation.