Distracted driving remains one of the leading causes of automobile accidents in the nation. More and more states are cracking down on the use of wireless communication devices while driving. Some regions ban cellphone use altogether while driving. The majority of states now ban texting while operating a motor vehicle, and Florida has at long last joined those states. Starting October 1, 2013, state law prohibits texting while driving.
What does the new anti-texting law mean for Florida drivers?
There are two key issues Florida drivers should be aware of in this new law (SB 52). The first is that it’s a secondary offense, so the police need to have some infraction or crime other than suspected texting to pull over a driver and cite him or her. The second key issue is that the police cannot simply seize your smartphone as evidence. According to a Florida Supreme Court decision that came down in May, smartphones contain confidential personal information to such an extent that the contents of a smartphone can only be obtained by law enforcement through a search warrant. Very few traffic officers are going to seek a warrant after stopping you for speeding, so it is unlikely that you can be cited for texting unless you admit to it.
An amendment to the bill weakens its enforcement even further by prohibiting the use of the driver’s phone records as evidence in a texting charge unless there was a crash that resulted in injury or death.
The anti-texting law also provides exceptions – people can text if they are stopped at stoplights or stuck in traffic. The bill also permits texting for emergency workers performing official duties, for reporting criminal activities or emergencies, and a variety of other exceptions.
What penalties are imposed for texting while driving?
The penalties for texting while driving, assuming police can prove it, start off lightly, with repeated offenses treated with increasing severity:
- First offense – Treated as a nonmoving offense (no points against your driving record) and a fine of $30 plus court costs
- Second offense – Treated as a moving offense (points assessed against your driving record) and a fine of $60 plus court costs if committed within five years of the first offense
The hidden costs of these infractions include increased insurance premiums for the driver as well as the possibility of a license suspension or revocation because of the additional points in a second offense. If you receive a ticket for texting while driving, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable traffic defense attorney so you understand the consequences of paying the ticket, which is an acknowledgement of guilt.