New Florida Law Bans Texting-and-Driving
On July 1, 2019, Florida’s law on banning texting-while-driving went into full effect. This new legislation impacts any person who operates a vehicle on Florida’s roadways, highways, streets, and even alleyways. According to research groups such as the National Safety Council, cell phone use – including texting while driving – directly causes over 1.6 million vehicle crashes each year. Statistics claim that approximately 400,000 injuries are directly related to car accidents caused by texting while driving and now virtually 1 out of every 4 car accidents happen because of texting and driving.
So, you may be asking, how does Florida’s ban on drivers texting and driving affect you. Under the new 2019 law, Florida drivers are now completely banned from using their cellphones to text, email, Snapchat, or any other activity that involves physically “typing or entering… letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a wireless device” while driving. Florida’s new text ban also prevents drivers from using their cell phones to also “read” any data on their mobile device.
We all are aware that distracted driving is one of the most prevalent causes of car accidents throughout the country. Washington state was the first state to ban texting and driving in 2007. Now, 48 states, including Washington D.C. ban the use of a cell phone to text while the person is operating a car. Because car accidents are so deadly, many other states have banned or limited texting or using a mobile device while driving. In 2019, Florida now joins these other states in limiting a driver’s use of their mobile phone.
According to the latest data from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, distracted driving caused 56,261 crashes in 2019, which resulted in 271 fatalities and 2,928 serious bodily injuries. This makes it the second leading cause of crashes in the state—trailing behind driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. More alarmingly, the same report indicates that fatal crashes due to distracted driving is at its highest since 2015.
The Dangers of Distracted Driving
Although activities such as eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, or making adjustments to your car stereo or navigation device while your car is moving are all considered distracted driving, texting is considered the most dangerous form. This is because texting involves taking your eyes off the road, letting go of the steering wheel, and thinking about things other than driving for longer than five seconds.
In a bid to improve road conditions, prevent crashes related to distracted driving, and reduce injuries, deaths, damage, and health insurance costs, Florida passed a law called the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.” Although texting while driving has been illegal in the state since 2013, the new law allowed authorities more enforcement capabilities. Also known as statute 316.305, the new law took effect on July 1, 2019, but was only fully implemented on October 1, 2019. However, authorities decided to take the time to educate motorists about the new law, only giving warnings to erring drivers until January 1, 2020—after which they began to issue citation tickets.
As your expert car accident lawyers in Florida, we make it a point to educate our clients about the full extent of the state’s laws. We do this to help reduce the number of crashes related to distracted driving and help people who are already involved in a crash understand their rights and responsibilities.
10 Things To Know About Florida’s Ban on Texting and Driving
1. The prohibition applies only while your vehicle is moving
The exact language of the law defining when you can be penalized for using your phone on the road is clear. According to the statute, if your car is not moving, then it “is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition.” Based on this definition, you can text, send emails, make calls, or other phone-related tasks while you’re stuck in a traffic jam or even if you’re waiting for a red light. As soon as your foot hits the gas pedal, your hands should be on your steering wheel, and your eyes should be focused on the road.
2. You can be issued a ticket for texting while driving
One of the most important provisions of the new law is that texting while driving is now treated as a primary offense. This means that an officer can pull you over and issue a citation ticket if he or she suspects you of texting while driving. Previously, officers were only allowed to do so if you were caught doing another offense, such as speeding or swerving.
3. There are exceptions to the rule
The law explicitly states a few situations where texting while driving is allowed. Specifically, the law does not apply to law enforcers, firefighters, or emergency medical responders who are actively performing their duties. You are likewise not punishable by law if you are using your phone for reporting emergencies or criminal activities to the police, navigation, radio broadcasts, and receiving updates regarding weather and other emergency alerts. Under the new law, you will also be allowed to text or drive if you are operating an autonomous vehicle.
Additionally, you are allowed to make a phone call if you are using a hands-free device, such as a Bluetooth speaker or wireless headphones. If you are using the latter, you will need to leave one ear open.
4. School and work zones are specially protected
While the law does allow you to use your phone anytime your vehicle is solitary such as while waiting for a traffic jam to move, you are not allowed to do so in designated school zones and road work sites. Even holding up your phone to use navigation apps is prohibited. Unless you are in a life-threatening emergency, you will need to find a suitable parking spot near these zones to use your phone legally.
However, if you have a hands-free device, you can make phone calls, provided that you do not need to use your fingers to type in information or divert your gaze. This means you can use personal virtual assistants, such as Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant. Be reminded that if you use headphones, you will still need to keep one ear open to comply with the law.
5. Officers with no search warrants can check your phone only if you let them
While police officers can pull you over for suspicion of texting while driving, they cannot search your phone records without your permission. Unless the officer has a search warrant, the law makes it clear that your consent must be voluntary, unambiguous, and not given while you are under duress. The law provides that your personal records, such as phone records, billing statements, and witness testimonies, can only be used as evidence if the crash resulted in death or serious bodily injury.
However, be reminded that if you refuse a search, a police officer can still issue a citation ticket. While the law allows a police officer to pull you over if they see you in the act of using a handheld device, it does not require a police officer to prove your violation before he or she can book your ticket. Your only option to avoid a ticket and its corresponding fees and license points are to agree to a search and convince a police officer of your innocence—or contest it in court.
6. You can contest this ticket in court
Because this type of traffic violation is considered non-criminal, you can contest the ticket in court. If you win, you should not be made to pay any fines or have additional points added to your license. However, should you lose, you will no longer be able to remove license points by attending a Florida DHSMV-approved traffic school course.
If you lost, try to make sure that the points added are accurate. Having too many points added to your record, even accidentally, can cause you to face suspension. Do note that the points will stay in your license for three years—so be wary in tracking how many points are on your license!
To increase your chances of winning, you can seek the services of a Florida lawyer to represent you in court.
7. Distracted driving tickets incur penalties on your driver’s license
First-time violators of the law will be offered the chance to waive their license points and other fees by participating in a wireless communications device driving safety program duly approved by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Alternatively, first-time violators can also show proof of purchasing a hands-free device that allows them to use their mobile devices in a hands-free manner.
However, the law is not as lenient for the repeat offenders. A second offense carries a $60 -$100 fine, other court-related fees, and three points on a driver’s license.
8. Citation tickets can affect insurance premiums
Tickets issued due to violation of this new law can cause your insurance premiums to go up too. This is because insurance companies will see your tendency to text while driving as a risk—and will respond accordingly by raising your premiums.
Texting while driving has long been proven to be the most dangerous form of distracted driving. In fact, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers who texted while driving increased their collision risk by up to 23 times.
This is because of the fact that at high speeds, even five seconds of distraction can result in catastrophic accidents. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, looking down for five seconds to read or compose a text message at a typical highway speed of 55mph is equivalent to driving through a whole football field with your eyes closed.
9. Police officers are required to record race and ethnicity
While both state house and senate unanimously passed the new law, it did raise a few concerns regarding minorities being more likely to be pulled over than Caucasians. As a result, police officers are required to include ethnicity and race in their reports. These records will be annually collected by the police departments and remitted to the Governor of Florida, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
10. You can sue for damage if you have severe injuries
Under Florida’s no-fault laws, you will not need to prove fault on the other party to be covered by insurance providers. This means that as a no-fault state, Florida requires both parties involved in a car accident to turn to their own respective insurance providers—regardless of fault—through what is known as a Personal Injury Protection.
However, if you incur substantial bodily injuries and damages with costs exceeding that of PIP coverage, then you can sue for compensation from the other party. To do this, you will have to prove that the other driver’s negligence was the direct result of the car crash.
Aside from treatment and rehabilitation costs, you can also demand compensation from lost wages, pain, suffering, and emotional distress, and in some cases, punitive damages.
If you or someone you know has been involved in a car crash caused by distracted driving, it’s best to contact a personal injury lawyer in Florida for the best results.
How to prevent distracted driving
While avoiding traffic citations is a good motivation to follow the new law, a responsible driver understands that ultimately, avoiding distracted driving is the goal of this piece of legislation. By following the law to the teeth, you are not only avoiding traffic citations, but you are also helping to ensure the safety of other drivers, passengers, and even passersby on the road.
To prevent distracted driving, you should do the following steps:
1. Put your mobile phone or tablet away
Given that texting and driving is among the leading causes of car crashes in Florida and the US as a whole, it makes sense that you should keep it in a hard to reach area while driving. If possible, you should eliminate any chances of distraction by keeping your mobile devices in silent mode or activating airplane mode entirely.
2. Refrain from eating or drinking in the car
While consuming food or beverages can seem like a simple activity, it’s actually more distracting than you think. Eating in a moving car involves physical, visual, and cognitive activities, like unwrapping, twisting off bottle caps, avoiding spillages, and the like. By making it a point not to eat, you can significantly minimize distractions while driving.
3. Do everything you need before driving off
Sometimes, turning off your mobile devices entirely is not an option. This is especially true if you use your phone as a navigation device. In this case, make sure to set your GPS settings accordingly prior to driving off. If you answered a phone call before driving away, it’s best to inform them that you’re driving and offer to call them back once you reach your destination. While answering calls are technically allowed with a hands-free device, doing so is still a distraction from driving—so minimize the risks and avoid it, if possible!
Speak With A Lawyer if You Were Involved in a Texting and Driving Car Accident
Distracted driving is a serious problem that claims thousands of lives every year in the United States. In fact, according to a 2016 report by the NHTSA, approximately nine people are killed and upwards of 1000 crashes happen every day due to distracted driving. By passing this new law, Florida became the 41st state to treat texting while driving as a primary offense.
Whether or not the new law will help drive down crashes due to distracted driving is yet to be seen. However, by knowing your rights and responsibilities under the law, you are in a good position to minimize your chances of being involved in a distracted driving-related crash.
If you or someone you know gets involved in a car crash in Florida, it’s best to seek the services of personal injury lawyers that specialize in car accidents, such as the Shiner Law Group! As experienced Florida lawyers, we specialize in representing individuals who have suffered losses as a result of someone else’s negligence. Contact us today to know more!
What is the fine for texting and driving?
If you are pulled over for texting your first citation will be $30 and you will lose a point off your license. The second time you are caught, the fine increases to $60 – and more importantly, you will lose three points off your driver’s license if you’re caught again within five years. However, the risk of causing an accident because you are distracted by your cell phone while driving is much greater than a minimal fine. This is also not to mention that should you cause a crash your insurance company may increase your rates, you may have significant property damage, and worst you could hurt or kill another person all because the text could not wait…
So, my advice – if you plan on driving, put the phone down! Not only can a police officer issue you a ticket for using your cell phone while driving, but you could hurt yourself, or someone else. Put the phone down – the message can wait!
Commonly asked texting and driving questions
Can I use my phone while stopped at a red light?
The short answer: yes. Pursuant to the new law, the texting ban does not affect a car that is “stationary” and is not “subject to the prohibition.” However, if you are still using your phone when you begin to drive then you are subject to the prohibition and can certainly receive a ticket.
What about using Navigation while driving?
The law does allow for a few narrow exceptions to the ban on cellphone use while driving. According to the law, it appears you are allowed to use your mobile device to assist in navigation, broadcasts, and safety-related information. However, your phone is still a distraction and best practices call for using a “spoken” navigation assistant or similar type of system.
Can I use my cellphone while driving in a school zone or construction zone?
Not after October 1, 2019! Hand-held cell phone use has been banned in Florida after October 1, 2019, in any school zone or construction zone where workers are present. However, mobile phone use will be allowed in these restricted zones, however, you must be using a Bluetooth or similar application. And, this makes sense. We all know that places such as school zones and construction areas can be more dangerous since there are people walking on the roads, distractions, etc. Best practices suggest that you should not use a cell phone at all in a school zone – the children, parents, and teachers will be very appreciative.
What is the fine for texting and driving?
If you are pulled over for texting your first citation will be $30 and you will lose a point off your license. The second time you are caught, the fine increases to $60 – and more importantly, you will lose three points off your driver’s license if you’re caught again within five years. However, the risk of causing an accident because you are distracted by your cell phone while driving is much greater than a minimal fine. This is also not to mention that should you cause a crash your insurance company may increase your rates, you may have significant property damage, and worst you could hurt or kill another person all because the text could not wait.