What You Need to Know about Florida’s New Texting While Driving Law

Millennials and Generation Z seem glued to smartphones.  They won’t eat until they’ve broadcasted a picture of their meal to all of their friends.  They won’t buy something until they’ve checked for a better price on Amazon.  They won’t believe something until they’ve verified it on the always-correct Internet.  This pandemic is benign until it spreads into moving vehicles.  In 2017, the majority (53%) of U.S. distracted drivers using cell phones when involved in a fatal car crash were under 30 years old.  To discourage distracted driving, Florida lawmakers strengthened the 2019 Florida Driving While Distracted Law.

In the 2018 version of that law, texting while driving was a secondary offense.  This meant that if an officer pulled you over for speeding or another primary offense, they could increase your ticket if (s)he found you on your phone.  However, (s)he couldn’t pull you over just for having your phone out while driving. While texting while driving was technically illegal, few Floridians faced fines to discourage their distracted driving.  The 2019 version reclassifies distracted driving as a primary offense, so officers can pull distracted Florida drivers over even if they are otherwise driving correctly.

The 2019 revision expands the definition of distracted driving to include other dangerous multitasking behaviors.  Among these are “personal grooming” and “interacting with pets,” so officers can pull over Florida drivers for shaving, putting on makeup, or giving Fido a belly rub while driving.  The law gives some exceptions for phone usage: officers cannot ticket drivers using their phones at a red light, or drivers who use their phones for navigating, calling 911, checking the weather or traffic, or listening to radio.

Another exception is for using a phone “in a hands-free manner,” such as via Bluetooth, even though some argue that “hands-free is not risk-free.”  The new law even allows clerks of court to drop a case against a first-time violator if (s)he buys a phone mount or other equipment allowing future hands-free phone usage.  Florida imposes relatively lax regulations on self-driving cars and is currently considering a bill to allow unoccupied self-driving cars to operate without human supervision.  For the meantime, the backup driver is exempt from the distracted driving law.

The new law is not effective immediately but will start phasing-in in the latter half of 2019.  Starting 1 July 2019, “counties, local law enforcement agencies, safety councils, and public schools” will work with the Florida DHSMV to launch a “statewide campaign” informing Florida drivers of the new law.  Starting 1 October 2019, officers can pull over distracted drivers and issue a warning.  This means motorists who frequently text or shave behind the wheel will get a personal heads-up before facing fines.  Finally, the law will take full effect in 2020, and distracted drivers will receive three points to their license and pay a fine to Florida’s Emergency Medical Services trust fund for each violation.

The 2019 Florida Driving While Distracted Law will help persuade drivers to keep their phones in their pockets, their lipsticks in their purses, and their hands on the wheel.  However, many Floridians will continue to drive with only a fraction of their attention, whether they are checking Google Maps on their phone, talking to passengers, or making a hands-free phone call.  This means there will still be vehicular collisions damaging cars and injuring or killing drivers and passengers.  If you or a loved one gets in a car crash, or receives property damages or medical injury at the hands of another, contact an experienced personal injury firm, like the Badgley Law Group, for a free consultation.

Something to think about: while not a national law, many states are adopting an increase in auto insurance premiums as a penalty for texting while driving. So not only does distracted driving endanger lives, but one may be paying for texting and driving for many years to come.

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