Authorities and law enforcement nationwide are coming down hard on texting and driving by introducing new laws that make it illegal for drivers to look at—or even hold—their smartphones and cellular devices. Despite these laws, distracted driving continues to be a major problem that causes car accidents across the United States.
The Sunshine State is no different.
More than 5 crashes involving distracted driving happen in Florida every hour, according to the State Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. There were nearly 50,000 distracted driving car crashes in Florida in 2016 alone, resulting in over 3,500 serious injuries and 233 fatalities.
On January 1, 2020, several new texting and driving laws went into effect in Florida that you should know about.
School and construction zones
In Florida, no cell phones are allowed to be used while driving in school and construction zones. Tapping the button to answer a phone call is still allowed, as is using navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps. But anything more than that and law enforcement can pull you over.
All drivers should take advantage of the latest technological advances for hands-free devices such as calling and text-to-voice functions. These are legal and available for purchase at any number of retail stores. There must be at least one ear free if you’re using Apple earbuds or Bluetooth devices.
Increasingly, car manufacturers have been putting cars on the market with Bluetooth already installed that make hand-free technology obsolete. Simply sync your phone with the car and use the voice-to-text function to respond to texts or use voice command to make a phone call.
Passenger cars, trucks, motorcycles and commercial vehicles aren’t the only ones subject to Florida’s texting and driving law. If you’re driving in a registered golf cart on low-speed streets with your phone in hand, you can still receive the same penalties as a driver texting on the road.
If you’re ticketed for texting and driving in Florida, the first warning comes with a $30 penalty plus court fees. Subsequent penalties are $60 plus court fees, and 3 points added to your driver’s license.
If you get pulled over by the police, don’t immediately hand over your phone. First they must prove that you were texting and driving before they pulled you over. If they can’t do that, then they might try to file a court-ordered subpoena to get a hold of your phone.
If you’re sitting at a red light and waiting for it to turn green, you might have your phone in your hand to type a response to a text message or dial a number to make a phone call. In this case, this is allowed under Florida law.
Responding to an emergency and reporting suspicious or criminal activities are also exceptions to the state’s texting and driving law. For example, if you receive an AMBER alert and respond to it, then you won’t be penalized as long as you can prove that you were reporting relevant information to the proper authorities.
George Lorenzo has been practicing law for nearly 30 years. He is a co-founder of Lorenzo & Lorenzo, a Tampa, FL personal injury law firm, specializing in auto accidents cases and more.