Texting while driving isn’t just dangerous, it’s now illegal.
Florida’s new law against texting and driving took effect July 1. It’s now considered a primary offense, which means that if a law enforcement officer sees you texting or typing on your phone while the car is moving, you can be pulled over.
Florida had nearly 50,000 accidents caused by distracted driving in 2016, including 233 deaths, Gov. Ron DeSantis said when signing the bill into law earlier this year.
Law enforcement statewide are issuing warnings until Jan. 1, but will start writing tickets after that. The first offense is considered a non-moving violation and will cost $116 in Osceola and Orange counties. The second offense is considered a moving violation and will cost $166 and three points against your driver’s license.
It will cost you more in automotive insurance, too. Data compiled by The Zebra, an auto insurance comparison website, shows that a first ticket in Florida for distracted driving/cell phone violation would boost your insurance rate by 25 percent.
Osceola County’s three law enforcement agencies are educating the public and themselves on the ins and outs of the texting and driving ban this summer.
“There are quite a few loopholes in this law,” said Kissimmee Police Department spokeswoman Bailey Myers.
For example, a driver can look at their phone while reading an email or have the phone in their hand while using the GPS, she said. A driver can also text while stopped at a traffic light, although they could be cited for impeding the flow of traffic if they are required to be in motion and are distracted by their phone.
“We have to see you actually texting and driving to pull you over. That’s where the ticketing gets a little precarious,” she said.
Sgt. Frankie De La Rosa, spokesman for St. Cloud Police Department agrees.
“One of the challenging things with this is that even when we pull someone over for texting and driving we can’t demand the phone from that person,” De La Rosa said. “It’s going to be hard to prove that they were texting before we pulled them over vs. just looking at their phone.”
Exceptions to the law include reporting an emergency or suspicious activity to law enforcement, he said.
Come Oct. 1, another part of the law takes effect and bans drivers from all cell phone use in school zones and construction areas where workers are present.
“That means you can’t have a phone in your hand at all while driving in these areas,” Myers said.
While certain uses of cell phones while driving are permitted, law enforcement agencies are encouraging the public to completely disengage from their phones while driving.
According to the National Safety Council, 24 percent of all call crashes involve cell phone conversations, hand-held and hands-free.
“What people need to realize is that law enforcement sees fatal crashes with people distracted by their cell phones while driving all the time. This law is here because people are dying. No text is worth the fine or the serious danger associated with distracted driving.” Myers said.