After five years of holding out, Florida finally has a law banning texting for motorists.
While something is better than nothing, the law signed by Gov. Rick Scott on May 28 leaves much to be desired.
Florida SB 52 prohibits manual texting while driving, which is described as entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a wireless communications device. So it’s a no-no to text, email, or instant messages while you’re driving.
But what is driving?
The law notes “a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated” and isn’t subject to the ban. This allows for drivers stopped at traffic lights or stuck in traffic to carry on texting. So don’t expect the driver in front of you to be ready to go when the light turns green if they’re in the middle of a text.
There are also exceptions to the ban, such as using your mobile device while driving if it’s related to the operation of the vehicle or navigation purposes (so feel free to check your GPS, tourists) or if you’re obtaining safety-related information (emergency, traffic or weather alerts) or receiving them in radio broadcasts via the device.
There are other loopholes that give Florida drivers more leeway than in other states.
For example, texting while driving is a secondary offense. To be cited a driver would have to be pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding or careless driving. In other states, where the offense is primary, officers atop overpasses or in unmarked cars write up motorists for texting alone.
Also, a first texting ticket is considered a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a non-moving violation, and comes with $30 fine (plus court costs).
It’s the second or subsequent violation that really will affect Florida drivers. Getting a second texting ticket will make it a moving violation and worth three points on your driving record. The fine is still mild at just $60 (plus court costs).
If the texting ticket makes it on the Florida driver’s record as a moving violation, then their car insurance rates can be affected. So a first-time, non-moving ticket wouldn’t affect drivers much, while a second ticket may get their attention since their auto insurer could now see the offense and rate on it as it would other moving violations, such as speeding. (See "How car insurance is affected by tickets and points) And rate hikes with insurers typically last at least three years.
The points system of the state was also updated to include two points to be assigned if a texting ticket is given in a school safety zone and for six points will be assessed if it’s found that the unlawful use of a wireless communications device results in a car crash. That may be hard to prove, however, since this new law specifically states a driver's phone records can be used as evidence only if a crash results in a death or injury.
At the signing of the law, Gov. Scott pointed out that "the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are known as the deadliest days on the road for teenagers. We must do everything we can at the state level to keep our teenagers and everyone on our roads safe."
Too bad the texting law doesn’t go into effect until Oct. 1.