Florida has enacted a ban on texting while driving, but critics say the law has no teeth.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law on May 28, 2013. The ban prohibits the use of cell phones for sending text messages or email while driving under most circumstances. But “most circumstances” comes with a number of exceptions. The law does not apply to drivers at red lights or in traffic jams. And drivers may still use phones for navigation, weather, and music, and they may also use voice-to-text applications.
But the biggest weakness in the law, some say, is the fact that violation of the ban is a secondary offense. That means that police cannot pull over a driver whose only offense is texting – they must commit some other infraction, such as speeding. They could then be ticketed for speeding and/or texting. Police also cannot require drivers to hand over their phones to show whether they have been texting or emailing. Enforcing the ban may therefore prove quite difficult.
State legislators have tried for years to pass a ban, but Republican leaders in the House have thwarted the efforts. This year, new House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, broke the gridlock when he indicated his support for the legislation.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the bill’s sponsor, defended the measure, saying the fact that texting is a secondary offense will not affect the public’s perception of it.
According to a recently-published study by Cohen Children’s Medical Center, texting while driving is the leading cause of death for teenagers, claiming the lives of more than 3,000 teens each year. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said that texting contributed to nearly 200 crashes in Florida last year. And the National Safety Council said that texting contributes to over 100,000 crashes per year in the U.S.
The law goes into effect on October 1, 2013. A first-time offense carries a $30 fine and is a nonmoving violation. A second violation within 5 years of the first carries a fine of $60 and is a moving violation.
Regardless of the state of the law, drivers as individuals need to take personal responsibility for their safety. This means not only the careful and judicious use of cell phones and other electronic devices in cars, but also defensive driving to protect oneself against the ever-present threat of others’ unsafe driving.