On October 1st, 2013, Florida became the 41st state to enact a law against texting while driving; officially restricting the use of mobile communication devices while a driver is behind the wheel. Earlier this year, Governor Rick Scott approved the legislation that has made it illegal to text and drive in the state of Florida.
Loopholes and Exceptions make the Ban Difficult to Enforce
Texting while driving is presently a secondary offense. This means that police cannot stop a driver solely for the purpose of texting. For this reason, Florida’s new law has been criticized as ineffective and weak. Many believe that in its current form, the law will not effectively deter drivers from texting.
Officers and deputies from numerous municipalities have chimed in citing extreme difficulties in issuing citations. Safety advocates have consistently cited the new law’s obvious shortcomings, as officers who actually see a driver texting behind the wheel cannot pull that driver over unless he/she displays other unlawful behavior such as speeding or reckless driving.
Additionally, texting is only illegal while the car is in motion. A driver is allowed to text when the car is at rest, such as waiting at a red light. Officers may not ask to see a driver’s phone to determine if the person actually sent a message unless an accident causing serious bodily injury or death has occurred. While the law addresses texting, specifically, it also does not address dialing. Manually dialing a phone number can take the same amount of a driver’s attention away from the road as reading a text message.
South Florida Senator Campaigning to Strengthen the Law and Facilitate Police Enforcement
On the same day the law went into effect, state Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, announced a proposed bill that would toughen the existing law. Sachs wants to change the law to make texting while driving a primary offense. As a secondary offense, the law is virtually unenforceable. However, making the law a primary offense would empower police to stop and ticket any driver observed keying or reading a text message while the vehicle is moving.
The fine would remain the same, a citation for $30 for the first offense. However, Sachs’ bill would make it much easier for law enforcement to actually ticket drivers who text. If the law is passed, aggressive ticketing campaigns aimed at stopping texting drivers could be effective in modifying the behavior of those stubborn drivers who still insist on texting. The ban is designed to do just that, to motivate drivers to leave the cell phone alone and keep their focus on the road.
Sen. Sachs cited some common statistics regarding texting and driving:
- Texting-related accidents (distracted driving) are the leading cause of traffic fatalities for teenagers in the US, surpassing alcohol related deaths since 2011.
- Reading a text message occupies a minimum of 4.6 seconds of a driver’s attention – at 55mph, a vehicle travels the length of a football field in that timeframe.
- Teens that text and drive are 50% more likely to crash and six times more likely to be killed in a crash, than teens driving under the influence of alcohol.