Put the phone down

Gov. DeSantis signs texting and driving bill

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

There's a new law on the streets, one that Florida drivers may have to pay fines of $30-$100 should they break.
On Friday, May 17, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 76, making the bill into law, while surrounded by bill supporters in Sarasota, Fla.
Originally introduced into the Florida State Senate by Senator Wilton Simpson-R, of District 10 (which includes Citrus County, Hernando County and part of Pasco County), the bill aimed to prohibit a person from operating a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device and allowed law enforcement agencies within Florida to issue warnings and citations to those who were using a wireless device while driving.
Prior to the bill's signing, drivers who were texting and driving could be issued a citation for using their phone, but only as a secondary offense and with another offense acting as a primary – this means drivers who were texting behind the wheel could only be cited if they were first pulled over for another violation.
Under the new law, texting and driving will be made a primary offense and allow law enforcement to stop drivers and issue citations for texting.
The new law will go into effect on Monday, July 1, but state law enforcement will start July by running a campaign advertising the new law in order to make Florida drivers aware of the changes to state law.
Between October through December, drivers who are caught using their devices while driving may be issued a verbal or written warning, but starting January 1, 2020, drivers who are pulled over for using a handheld device while driving will face citations and fines upwards of $100 (not counting court costs) as well as three points on their driver's license, for using a phone.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule.
According to SB 76, the law does not apply to drivers in stopped vehicles or to drivers who are using their phone to navigate through a map application.
It also does not apply if a driver is using their phone for safety alerts, such as for traffic or weather conditions, or if the driver is using their phone to make a call to law enforcement or report an emergency.
Likewise, school and work zones will be strictly hands-off zones. Drivers cannot be on their phone at all, for any reason, while traveling in these zones and must use hands-free devices in order to make calls or receive alerts.
“It is the intent of the Legislature to improve roadway safety for all vehicle operators, vehicle passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians and other road users,” reads SB 76, adding that the new law also seeks to prevent crashes and reduce injuries, death, property damage and insurance rates.
As with any other personal property, law enforcement officers must receive the property owner/driver's permission to check their phone, otherwise they need a warrant.
Phone records connected to a driver's mobile phone cannot be checked, unless the driver was involved in a collision where an individual was injured or killed.
“Unfortunately, I wish I could prevent every accident, but 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,” said Gov. DeSantis during the signing ceremony of Florida's newest law.
This law will join Florida to the growing list of states that have made texting and driving a primary offense.