After five years of deliberation and opposition among divided state officials, Florida has become the 41st state to effectively restrict the use of mobile communication devices by drivers. The ban took effect on October 1st, 2013. Earlier this year, Governor Rick Scott approved legislation that has made it illegal to text and drive in the state of Florida. Originally, the law was slated to take effect around January 1st, but officials succeeded in fast-tracking the enactment timetable.
However, as discussed in previous firm blogs, Florida’s new law has been received as anything but harsh. Safety advocates and texting ban supporters have consistently cited the new law’s ineptitude.
Currently, the newly enacted law defines texting while driving only as a secondary offense. This means that police cannot stop a driver solely for the purpose of texting while driving. The driver must be pulled over for another offense such as speeding. Essentially, the terms of the law may mean that police are unlikely to be watching out for texters any more than they did before October 1st. Police may not even stop a driver simply to warn them about texting unless the driver was violating another law.
Additionally, texting is only illegal while the car is in motion. A driver is allowed to text when the car is at a complete stop, such as waiting at a red light. Officers cannot ask to see a driver’s phone to determine if the person actually sent a message unless the driver accused of texting has caused serious bodily injury or death in an accident. While the law addresses texting, specifically, it is unclear on dialing.
However, the law is the first step toward reducing distracted driving in a state where no laws were in place previously. Prior to October 1st, other state officials had already initiated efforts geared toward strengthening the texting ban law.
Lawmakers fought with opposition from both house chambers in Tallahassee for years before finally getting the current edition of the statute passed through. The new law may have been passed with arguably “weak” enforceability as a means of simply getting any ban into effect.
Efforts aimed at strengthening the current law are well underway. An amendment making texting while driving a primary traffic offense could be enacted within the next year, if two south Florida officials have their way. Senator Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and Mike Jackson, Chairman and Chief Executive of AutoNation Inc., announced proposed revisions to the law in a press conference held on the 1st, the same day the ban took effect.
Many officials and Florida safety advocates hope to eventually strengthen laws to mirror those in place in other states such as New York, which has completely banned the use of mobile devices (talk and text) while driving unless a hands-free device, such as a headset, is being used.
A few additional new laws also took effect on the 1st, including a law guaranteeing the public a right to speak at city and county government meetings. A third new law bans welfare recipients from using government benefits or EBT cards at all “adult entertainment establishments” such as strip clubs and casinos.