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Bill Aims to Make Texting While Driving a Primary Offense in Florida

Distracted driving has been highlighted by the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles as the number one cause of accidents in the state and a more serious threat for causing injuries than drunk driving.  While Florida has a ban on texting while driving, a number of our legislators don’t believe it goes far enough in reducing distracted driving.

Florida’s texting-while-driving ban would be strengthened under a proposal filed this month by Sen. Thad Altman, from Rockledge, for the 2016 legislative session. His bill (SB 328) would ensure texting while driving is a “primary” offense – meaning police could pull over motorists who violate the ban without having any other reason to stop the driver.

Currently, as a “secondary” offense, drivers can only be cited for texting while driving if they are stopped for other reasons such as driving erratically or a headlight being out.

Another bill that was filed in August by Rep. Richard Stark, from Weston, would bring in stiffer penalties for motorists who text while driving in school zones or at school crossings. Stark’s bill seeks to double fines for drivers who violate the texting-while-driving ban in the designated school areas.

Although texting while driving is a primary offense in many states, previous attempts to strengthen the law have failed in Florida.  A number of other measures to crack down on cellphone use while driving have been submitted to the legislature but have also failed to be enacted into law.

Earlier this year, Rep. Mia Jones, from Jacksonville, and Sen. Audrey Gibson also from Jacksonville, submitted bills to completely outlaw cellphone use while driving, not just the text messaging banned under the current statute. The bills were unsuccessful. More than half a dozen bills have been introduced to combat distracted driving in Florida.

Local law enforcement officials and activists support the strengthening of the Florida’s distracted driving laws and building off the previous statute.

”We’ve allowed this to happen as a society. We’ve cracked down on drinking and driving, impaired driving, but we haven’t done anything about distracted driving,” said Jay Anderson, executive director and president of Stay Alive…Just Drive!  a distracted driving awareness group.

Florida lags behind many other states in the crackdown on texting at the wheel.  When the legislature passed the “Ban on Texting While Driving” law, Florida was the 41st state to outlaw text messages at the wheel.

The statute made it a secondary offense to use a cellphone to send or read a text message. As well as the concerns about it being a secondary offense, the law also only restricts texting while driving, not if a driver is stopped at traffic lights. Drivers can also be distracted by cellphones for everything from playing music to surfing social media sites to GPS navigation

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 14 states along with Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. All are primary enforcement laws.

While no states have a blanket ban on cell phone use for all drivers, 38 states and Washington D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, and 20 states and D.C. prohibit it for school bus drivers. Federal laws prevent truckers from using hand held cell phones. All but five of the 46 states that have banned texting while driving have a primary enforcement law.

Earlier this year, Jacksonville Mayor, Alvin Brown, signed a proclamation declaring April 3, 2015, as “One Text or Call Could Wreck It All” Day. He asked all residents to help spread awareness against the dangers of texting while driving by signing a new pledge to end distracted driving. He issued new executive orders to promote best safety practices among city employees.

“We want our roads to be safe for everyone in our community,” said Mayor Brown. “Distracted drivers threaten not only their own safety, but also the safety of others. That’s why the city is leading by example, improving our driver certification process and bringing in outside experts to ensure that the welfare of our citizens and property is protected.”

If you have been injured by a driver who was texting or using a cell phone please contact our Jacksonville law firm with experience in accidents caused by distracted driving and texting for a free consultation at 904-632-0077.