On October 1st, 2013, Florida became the 41st state to enact a law against texting while driving. On the same day the law went into effect, state Sen. Maria Sachs announced a proposed bill that would toughen the existing law.
In its existing form, the current law is extremely difficult for police to enforce because it defines texting as a secondary violation. This means that law enforcement cannot stop a driver solely for the purpose of texting while driving. The driver must be stopped for another offense such as speeding or reckless driving.
Additionally, texting is only illegal while the car is in motion. A driver may 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 is involved in an accident causing serious bodily injury or death.
Sachs wants to change the law to make texting while driving a primary offense. As a secondary offense, the law is virtually unenforceable and may do little to deter drivers from texting. However, making the law a primary offense would empower police to stop and ticket any driver observed sending or reading a text message while driving.
The fine would remain the same, a ticket for $30 for the first infraction. However, Sachs’ bill would make it much easier for law enforcement to actually issue citations. If the law is passed, aggressive ticketing campaigns aimed at stopping texting drivers could be effective in motivating drivers to think twice before reaching for the phone – which is the overall safety goal of the initiative.
In her October 1st press conference, Sachs cited a few established statistics regarding texting and driving:
Those who recognize the dangers of distracted driving may see this step as the first of many designed to gradually strengthen the law and to get all drivers to put down their mobile devices while behind the wheel. While many other states, like New York, have completely banned the use of mobile devices while driving, Florida only recently passed its texting ban following nearly 5 years of debate and controversy in Tallahassee.
Still, Sachs feels this is a first step and strengthening its enforceability might be met with less resistance. It’s possible that some concessions may be necessary in order to make the law a primary offense, such as requiring officers to issue a written warning for first-time violations. Only time will tell, but it is very likely this topic will again make local headlines as the bill progresses through the state legislature.