Florida’s new texting law could cost you points on your driver’s license. (Image by Paul Scicchitano)
TALLAHASSEE, FL — If you drive anywhere in the Sunshine State, you will now have to keep your LOLs to yourself if you want to avoid an OMG moment that could cost you points and $$$ when you get pulled over by a LEO.
"Starting today, law enforcement officers have the discretion to issue a citation," Captain Tom Pikul of the Florida Highway Patrol told Patch on Monday, July 1.
State troopers will be giving out warnings in most cases until the end of the year for violations of the Wireless Communication While Driving Law but that’s not necessarily the case for the hundreds of local and county police agencies throughout Florida’s 67 counties.
"Certainly it’s to their discretion and the city councils’ discretion and the sheriffs," said Pikul, who is chief of public affairs for FHP. "This is just something that the Florida Highway Patrol chose to do to get the word out about education."
Starting on Oct. 1, the law will also ban motorists from holding their phone when they pass through a designated school crossing, school zone or active work zone.
As you might have guessed, the new law is raising lots of questions among the state’s licensed drivers, who simply want to make sure they stay on the right side of the law.
In 2018 alone, Pikul said there were 52,000 crashes throughout Florida that involved distracted driving, which includes texting.
"It’s not just the phone," he said. "It’s any distractions that occur in the vehicle."
For a first offense, citations to the new law will be treated as a non-moving violation, which carries a $30 fine plus court costs and other fees.
The second offense — and each additional offense for the next five years — are treated as moving violations, which carry a fine of $60 plus court costs and other fees as well as three points on your driving record.
"Three points would be equivalent to a speeding citation, or a careless driving citation," he explained. "Remember, if you get 12 points in a year, your license can be suspended."
He said drivers might find it helpful to place their phones in the back seat or in a glove compartment or center console.
"We really encourage people to just put the phone down when they are in the car," he said.
"If they have little ones in the back seat, put it back there. We all know no one is going to forget their phone in the car," he advised. "It serves a double purpose."
Patch invited Capt. Pikul to respond to some of the questions that we’ve heard from Floridians regarding the new law.
QUESTION: Does the new law permit people to text when they are stopped at a red light or if they are pulled over on the side of the road?
ANSWER: Yes, as long as the vehicle is not moving. They can text if they are stopped at a stoplight or if they are pulled over on the side of the road.
QUESTION: Can people still hold their phones while they are driving?
ANSWER: The Wireless Communications While Driving Law is specifically for texting while driving. That is the one that goes in effect today. Starting on Oct. 1, wireless communication devices can only be used in a hands-free manner when in a designated school crossing, school zone or an active work zone area. If you are holding your phone at all starting on Oct. 1 2019 in any of those three areas, you can also be stopped. All school zones are marked. Active work zone areas will always have some signage before you go into them and then of course designated school crossings during specific times of day are also marked as well. If it isn’t an active school zone or an active school crossing, that again would not apply in that situation.
QUESTION: Can people use the voice-to-text function while they are driving?
ANSWER: Yes. They are allowed to use the voice-to-text as long as they are not actively typing. One of the big things that the Florida Highway Patrol is doing is we’re doing an education campaign through Dec. 31, 2019. We’re issuing warnings for texting while driving although there are exceptions that would apply in extremely dangerous driving situations that could cause serious bodily injury or possibly death to somebody on the road. Obviously, that’s going to be an exception, and we’re going to issue a citation for that.
QUESTION: Can people use their phones for navigation?
ANSWER: If you are in that construction work zone area, school zone or designated school crossing and your phone is in your hand, that would apply to the law starting Oct. 1, 2019. Everything would have to be in a hands-free manner once you enter that active area, construction area and you have your phone in your hand.
QUESTION: Is there a distinction between typing a text or typing in a web browser under this law?
ANSWER: According to the law, it would be for texting. It actually would be texting that would apply for the law.