Imagine this: You’re driving down I-275. You glance over to the right of you and the driver next to you is texting on their phone. You glance over to the left and the driver next you is looking in their mirror putting lipstick on. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon to see, and I’m sure many of our readers can relate to feeling shocked and angry at the activities you have observed other drivers engaging in. Usually not relating to safe driving. Maybe you’ve even been the victim of distracted driving and have needed a personal injury attorney due to another driver’s distracted driving.
Sadly, the number of crashes related to distracted driving just keeps climbing. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) recorded 51,258 instances of distracted driving just last year. Sadly, more than 3,000 of these instances caused injuries and 227 lead to fatalities. That’s up more than 1,000 crashes in just one year and equals roughly 10,000 more crashes than in 2014.
That’s why the Florida legislature has passed new regulations to discourage and penalize one of the main culprits of distracted driving: texting while driving. Texting while driving has always been illegal, but this new law would allow Florida law enforcement officers to stop a driver just for texting. The distracted driving law goes into effect on July 1. However, officers have said they’ll use the six-month period from July to December simply to educate drivers, without issuing tickets.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the newest distracted driving law to impact drivers in Florida.
What is Florida’s New Distracted Driving Law?
The new law moves texting while driving from a secondary offense — one that a law enforcement officer could write a ticket for if the driver was pulled over for another issue — to a primary offense. That means police will be able to stop a driver for any observed cell phone use.
Originally, lawmakers in the state Senate had hoped to encompass other forms of distracted driving, like putting on makeup or reading. But the final bill approved by both the state House and Senate and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis applies to texting only.
Is Texting While Driving Illegal?
Texting while operating a motor vehicle has been illegal in Florida for some time now. However, the new law now allows the police to be able to stop drivers for any observed cell phone activity.
Drivers can still:
- use a cell phone in hands-free mode
- use a GPS or map service for directions
- check the phone when the vehicle is at a stop, such as at a traffic light
However, you cannot use a phone or any other mobile device for any reason other than an emergency in a work zone or school zone.
In addition to receiving a ticket for driving and texting, you may be criminally liable for your actions if you cause an accident due to your distracted driving. If you’re involved in an accident with a distracted driver, consult our personal injury attorneys in Tampa Bay for a free consultation to learn about the next steps you can take.
Will a Police Officer Be Able to Look at Your Phone?
If you get pulled over for texting while driving, a police officer can request to see your phone. You have the right to refuse to allow this without a warrant (though officers can still write tickets if they believe you were violating the law). The exception is if there has been an accident or an injury; law enforcement can legally check the records for your phone.
What Does This Mean for Florida Drivers?
Hopefully, the new distracted driving law means drivers will be a lot safer. Motor vehicle accidents lead to more than 3,000 deaths in Florida each year and many more thousands of injuries. Distracted driving laws can help reduce the number of crashes.
Driving is a risky activity in spite of efforts like this new law that make the roads safer.
Unfortunately, accidents still happen. If you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident and you know or suspect the other driver was engaged in distracted driving, than it’s important to contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney right away.
For a free consultation about your accident, contact Melkonian, P.A., your Tampa Bay Personal Injury Law Firm.