Florida Ban on Texting While Driving

Cell phones used to be considered a luxury, a wireless communication device reserved for businessmen on the go. Today, almost nobody leaves the house without their cell phone in hand. Smartphones have paved the way for people to always be available: a simple phone call or text message and everyone is connected. Text messaging has become a way of life: in less time than it takes to dial a number and wait for the other person to answer, you can click a few keys, hit send, and get an immediate response.

Texting while driving can be tempting. You think it will only take a second and you won’t be distracted, but texting while driving can be very dangerous. Studies have shown that texting while driving leads distracted drivers to cause accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported that a car accident is 23 times more likely to occur when a driver is texting. They also found that 30% of all accidents in the U.S. result from a driver who admits to texting right before the crash.

A distracted driver is dangerous for several reasons. They may have their vision distracted by taking their eyes off the road or be manually distracted by taking their hands off the wheel. Mental distractions can also occur when people take their mind off of what they’re doing (driving) and instead, think about something else. A texting driver is particularly dangerous because they’re doing all three things at the same time. In fact, in the amount of time it takes you to read or send a text message, you’ve already traveled past the length of a football field, barely paying attention to the road ahead.

Florida’s Texting and Driving Law

In 2013, the state of Florida passed its Ban on Texting and Driving Law. Florida State Statute 316.305(3)(a) states that:

“A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data in such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging.”

One of the issues that had made it difficult for law enforcement officers to issue citations under the statute is the fact that it had been specifically classified as a secondary offense. What that meant was in the absence of another traffic violation, a police officer could witness you texting and driving, but could not stop you and issue a citation unless there was a primary violation, like speeding, failure to maintain a single lane, et cetera.

Recognizing the ineffectiveness of the 2013 law in many situations, the state of Florida enacted a law, effective July 1, 2019, that now makes texting while driving a primary offense. Law enforcement officers can now issue you a citation if they observe you typing on your phone. This citation is a non-criminal traffic infraction punishable by:

  • First Infraction – $30 and one point on your license
  • Second Infraction (within five years of the first) – $60 and three points on your license

The law specifically prohibits drivers from sending text messages, emails, or instant messages while driving. The law has several purposes: improve roadway safety for drivers, prevent car crashes caused by distracted drivers, and reduce injuries. Injuries, deaths and property damage caused by distracted drivers drives up health care costs and raises insurance premium rates for everyone.

Although the law prohibits texting while driving, it does not apply when a car is “stationary,” which means the ban does not apply when you are stopped at a red traffic light or stuck in a major traffic jam. If your car is not moving, technically, you can send text messages or emails. But this slight distinction still poses a risk to other drivers who may be tempted to finish typing out the last few words of a message once the light turns green. Just because you are stopped momentarily at a red light does not mean you can stop focusing on the road.

Florida Statistics

Each year, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles compiles statistics on drivers, traffic accidents, and citations. Every year, the number of total crashes has steadily increased. In 2017, Florida had 402,385 total crashes, with 686,590 drivers involved and 3,116 fatalities. That comes out to an average of 1,098 crashes per day. Distracted drivers accounted for 234 fatalities, 3,096 injuries, and more than 50,000 total crashes.

In 2016, the numbers were just as high: 241 fatalities and more than 49,000 total crashes caused by distracted drivers. In fact, the Florida Highway Patrol reports that in 2016, distracted drivers caused more than 5 car crashes every hour. Orange County had the highest number of accidents, more than 6,000, with Hillsborough and Miami-Dade County trailing behind. Across the United States, an average of 9 people are killed every day and more than 1,000 others are injured in accidents involving distracted drivers. In fact, texting while driving has now replaced drunk driving as the leading cause of death in teenagers on the road.

Face It: Social Media and the Cell Phone

One of the biggest perks to having a smartphone is that with internet access comes a whole lot of apps. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter… virtually every social media outlet has a designated app that keeps you connected and relevant at all times. Unfortunately, using these apps while driving is just as dangerous and risky as texting while driving.

A poll conducted in 2015 found that nearly 1 out of every 3 people use Facebook while driving. Although Florida’s law does not specifically list social media as an example, updating your status on Facebook could easily be considered “texting while driving.” Scrolling through your friends’ timelines, commenting on their posts, even “liking” someone’s picture requires the person behind the wheel of a car to momentarily take their eyes off the road. And Facebook Messenger will most certainly fall within the law’s definition of using the cell phone for instant messaging.

What happens if you’re involved in a serious car accident? Police can easily obtain a search warrant to track your activities while driving, such as whether you were texting or logged in to Facebook. Avoid the risks and stay OFF your cell phone while driving!

Insta-Distracted

Instagram allows users to upload photos and videos, without all the extra content Facebook users enjoy. Users can create catchy hashtags to describe their photos, such as #driving which has more than 6,644,000 posts as of 2018, or #drivingselfie which has more than 31,000 posts. The hashtag culture has plenty of other driving variations, indicating drivers are not shying away from car selfies or live videos.

Snap That Selfie

While Facebook and Instagram opened the door for social media, Snapchat has taken selfies to a whole new level. In just a couple of seconds, Snapchat users can take a picture, upload it to their story, or send it privately to friends.

Although exact numbers are unknown, more than 16 million Snapchat users admitted to using the app while driving behind the wheel of their car. And remember Snapchat’s speedometer feature? People nearly died trying to film themselves while the speedometer tracked their outrageous speeds. That feature is no longer available, but it hasn’t stopped people from snapping pics inside their car. Avoid the risk of receiving a citation or worse, of being involved in a serious car accident. Stay off your phone while driving! Your selfie can wait; your safety CANNOT.

Drive Smart!

Is sending a text message really worth the risk of being in an accident or causing serious injuries? There are a number of apps available that are designed to protect against texting while driving. Because teenagers make up the biggest number of distracted drivers, consider downloading an app that will track the miles your teenager has driven without any incidents, while at the same time blocking text messages from coming in and sending your phone notifications, instead. Parents can lead by example and immediately put away their own phones as soon as they get in the car. If your smartphone is already equipped with a driving app designed to block texts, make sure to enable those features. If the phone doesn’t ring, you won’t be tempted to check what it is. And more importantly, if you are riding in someone else’s car and you see them take their eyes off the road as they reach for their phone, TELL THEM TO STOP. Distracted drivers aren’t just a danger to themselves, they’re a danger to everyone else around them