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A New Way to Stop Texting While Driving

After some wrangling between Florida’s House and Senate, the two came together to write and pass Florida’s new texting and driving bill. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in May.

So it’s the law. More to the point, it’s the new law.

In 2013, the Legislature made texting and driving an offense — but a secondary one. What that meant was law enforcement could not stop a driver for the act of texting. Another offense had to be observed, such as swerving, speeding or having a taillight out.

Beginning Monday, deputies, officers and troopers can pull you over if they see you with a phone in the act of texting. Law enforcement now has a better means toward a safer end.

A first offense carries a fine plus court costs, which results in a total fine of more than $100. Additional violations means increased fines and points on your driver’s license, which can increase insurance premiums.

Under the law, exceptions for holding a phone include being stopped, using your phone for safety alerts such as traffic or weather, reporting an emergency to law enforcement and using the phone for maps or navigation.

There are parts of the law that have gotten little press. Beginning in October, law enforcement will be able to issue warnings for talking on a handheld phone while driving in a designated school crossing, school zone or work zone. Using a hands-free device to talk will remain legal in those areas. The violations will start carrying fines on Jan. 1.

There is some concern the phone stops will be used for racial profiling. The new law does contain language that strict records be kept on stops, to track just that kind of excess. And law enforcement must inform drivers they have the right to refuse any search of their phone without a warrant or “unequivocal and voluntary” consent.

Statistically speaking:

• According to the National Safety Council, 1.6 million accidents per year are caused by texting behind the wheel

• A Harvard Risk Analysis Study estimated that 330,000 injuries per year attributed to texting while driving

• You are 23 percent more likely to be in an auto accident when texting behind the wheel

• The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute stated that texting takes your vision off the road for 5 seconds to read a text. Driving at 55 mph, you can travel the distance of a football field without your eyes on the road. And texting while driving results in longer response times than even drunken driving. While an unimpaired driver can respond quickly to changes in traffic and begin braking within half a second, a legally drunk driver needs four additional feet to begin braking. A driver who is texting needs 70.

We’ll leave you with a bumper-sticker saying that seems appropriate: “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.”

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