After a temporary postponement to better align a pair of proposed bills, Florida lawmakers have accomplished what legislators in both Congressional chambers have failed to do for years: compromise over a plan to crack down on distracted driving.
On Monday, April 29, 2019, the Florida House of Representatives passed CS / HB 107, setting the stage for Florida to join 43 other states in making texting while driving a primary offense. The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law.
The passing of CS / HB 107 comes after the Florida Senate voted on April 25 to pass it’s version of the new texting while driving law, and the House’s approval of its measure on April 23. Both bills were amended to align rules for the state’s new approach to curbing the use of wireless communications while driving, and the many dangers is poses to public safety.
Though Florida law already makes texting behind the wheel illegal, it’s only a secondary offense, which means law enforcement officers must first pull over motorists for another reason before they can issue a citation.
What to Expect with a New Florida Texting While Driving Law
With Monday’s passing of CS / HB 107, texting while driving laws will soon change in Florida. To help you get prepared for the changes likely to come, our legal team at Todd Miner Law have put together a short list of things you should know:
- Why there were two bills – Both the House and the Senate introduced legislation to revamp Florida’s texting while driving laws, as they have done for many years. Though the House approved its version on April 23, a scheduled vote on the Senate’s version, which differed slightly, was postponed in order for lawmakers make revisions better aligned with what members of the House wanted to see for the texting ban’s scope. Before the texting legislation could be signed into law, both bills had to be the same.
- Police can pull you over for texting alone – Under the legislation, Florida’s ban against texting while driving will become a primary offense, allowing police and Florida Highway Patrol to stop motorists solely for texting while driving. As it currently stands, Florida’s texting ban is only a secondary law, which means law enforcement must first find another reason to pull drivers over before they’re able to cite and fine distracted drivers.
- You still have time before the law takes effect – Even if the measure is signed into law by the Florida Governor before the end of the legislative session, Florida motorists would still have time to get used to the new law and how it will be enforced. From October 1 through December 31, 2019, law enforcement officers will be able to pull drivers over for texting while driving, but would only issue warnings. Beginning January 1, 2010, police will begin stopping motorists who text while driving and start giving them tickets.
- The penalties – Penalties for a first offense include three points on a driver’s license, as well as a $30 fine, in addition to other fees and court costs. That would increase to $60 for a second offense. First offenders will also have an option to avoid points and fees accompanying tickets. For example, cited drivers who present proof that they purchased a Bluetooth hands-fee device would be allowed to take a driver safety course in lieu of points and fines.
- You can still use a cell phone when a vehicle is stationary – Language in the bill, and information from lawmakers, clarify that the new law specifically states motor vehicles which are “stationary” and “not being operated” won’t be subject to the texting while driving ban. Drivers in stationary cars, such as those on the side of a road or at a stop light, as they currently can now, would technically still be able to use their cell phone until they begin moving again.
- Race and ethnicity information will be collected – The new law allows data about the ethnicity and race of motorists pulled over for allegedly texting while driving to be collected and submitted to the Governor, Senate president, and Speaker of the House. The data, which will start being collected on February 1, 2020, is intended to help determine whether certain motorists are being targeted more than others. This portion of the law was adopted over concerns of racial profiling, particularly as studies found that after Florida allowed police to pull over drivers without a seat belt, black motorists were disproportionately affected.
- You don’t have to turn over a phone without a warrant – Any motorist who is pulled over for texting while driving under CS / HB 107 will be informed by law enforcement officers about their right to decline a search of their cell phone. Officers are not able to search a driver’s phone without voluntary consent or a warrant.
- Need to use your phone for GPS? You’ll likely be OK – Under the new law, drivers would still be able to legally use a cell phone for navigation purposes when in a motor vehicle. However, some restrictions may apply. The approved version of the legislation specifically requires navigation to be used in a “hands-free manner.”
- You can’t have a phone in your hand in certain locations – The new law will prohibit drivers from having a cell phone in their hand when driving in a school zone or construction zone where there are active workers. Previous iterations prohibited using any type of hand held device at any time, but that was changed with the latest revision.
- The law doesn’t apply to self-driving cars – If you have a self-driving car, or may have one in the future, the law will not apply to those operating autonomous vehicles.
Distracted driving, and texting while driving in particular, has been a scourge on American roads. Florida’s efforts to crack down are finally gaining traction, and as a law firm that has represented car accident victims harmed by distracted drivers using cell phones, our team at Todd Miner Law supports efforts which focus on solutions for long-standing public safety problems. Unfortunately, we know that even with laws prohibiting unsafe and unlawful conduct, negligent motorists can still cause harm.
If you or someone you love has been injured in any type of motor vehicle collision – from a car crash to a bus accident or commercial truck accident, Orlando injury lawyers at Todd Miner Law are available to help you learn about your rights and the process for seeking a recovery of your damages. Call (407) 269-5877 or contact us online to speak with an attorney.