If you’re like 47% of consumers, you expect a website to appeal to you in two seconds or less. In 2019, we expect everything to happen instantly. Which is why, for some drivers, the idea of waiting ten minutes to respond to a text message is simply unthinkable. But for those who live in Florida, it’s no longer legal to use your mobile device to access a website at all — much less return a text, livestream a video, or dial a number — if you’re behind the wheel. As of this month, texting and driving is officially illegal in the state of Florida.
The Wireless Communications While Driving Law, which was recently signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, officially went into effect on July 1, 2019. Since one of the three most common causes of car accidents in the U.S. is distracted driving, it’s no wonder that the Sunshine State finally joined a multitude of others in making texting while driving illegal. In fact, there are now only three states in the entire nation that have yet to make texting and driving a primary offense (meaning that law enforcement can pull drivers over and ticket them solely for operating a mobile device, rather than issuing a citation only if there’s another infraction involved). It’s actually a primary offense to merely hold a cell phone while driving in 19 different states; although Florida has not yet made this change, it will be a primary offense to do so when driving through school zones or construction zones starting in October.
But for now, Florida residents and visitors need to concern themselves with the texting and driving bill at-hand. Since Americans spend an average of 87 minutes per day in their cars, that’s a significant amount of time wherein you could be vulnerable to receiving a ticket if you aren’t careful. Under the new law, motorists cannot do anything that involves “manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication.” In other words, you can’t send or read an email, text, or direct message. You can, however, theoretically send a text while you’re stopped at a red light (though as soon as your vehicle is moving, you’ll be breaking the law). Legally, you can also continue to use navigation apps and check safety or weather alerts that may come through on your device.
The U.S. is the world’s number one producer and consumer of oil, so transportation is a key part of our daily lives. But if you don’t want to risk having your license taken away, you’ll want to curb your technology addiction. Although some law enforcement agencies may choose to issue a warning for driving while texting, there’s no guarantee that you won’t face consequences the first time you’re caught.
If you are pulled over for texting and driving, you’ll receive a point on your license and will be responsible for a $30 fee for your first infraction. However, if you’re caught texting while driving again within five years of that first ticket, you’ll receive three points on your license and will be slapped with a $60 penalty. The monetary punishments may not be all that steep, but drivers will also be responsible for any court-associated costs on top of that fine (which could bring the total into the triple or quadruple digits, especially if other driving citations are involved). And if you garner a substantial number of points, your license could theoretically be suspended.
Although many are in support of stricter laws related to texting and driving, some residents feel that the new bill isn’t harsh enough. Not only are there a number of exceptions to the rules and no steep penalties to face, but data shows that these primary offense laws haven’t had much impact on national car crash rates related to mobile devices. While the new law may be better than nothing, some are quick to point out that the difference may not be all that much — and that it may not make drivers and pedestrians any safer than before.
On top of that, public data shows that enforcement of the new texting and driving law has been incredibly lax. According to the Tampa Bay Times, only a few dozen texting citations were issued across the entire state in the first two weeks of July. With millions of drivers on Florida roads, that means your odds of getting pulled over for texting were virtually nil.
Still, at least the law is a step in the right direction — even if it takes many more steps to improve road conditions for the whole of the state. If you don’t want to be stuck with fees and license points, you’ll want to put your phone away for the entirety of your trip (unless it’s an emergency) and keep your eyes on the road instead of your screen.