If you’re one of Florida’s approximately 15-million licensed drivers scurrying about on streets, highways and interstates, you’ve almost invariably seen them: drivers whose eyes are more focused on their cell phone screens than they are on the road. We all know, most of us are guilty of doing it. However, did you know that 1 out of every 4 car accidents in the US is caused by texting while driving?
In Florida, texting while driving has been a secondary offense. Police or other law enforcement officers can ticket you for texting while driving, but only after they’ve pulled you over for another traffic violation.
Good News! The bill that would make texting while driving a primary traffic offense has just been signed into law Governor DeSantis this past week.
On April 29th, the Florida House passed a compromise bill. House Bill 107, as signed by Governor DeSantis, will change the texting while driving violation to a primary offense as well as making mandatory ‘hands-free areas’ within school and construction zones, when students and workers are present.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported almost 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida, in 2016, which is more than five crashes every hour. (Sun-Sentinel.com “Florida second-worst state for distracted driving, study says” by Wayne K. Roustan April 12, 1017)
“Auto Insurance premiums in Florida have been greatly affected due to the increase in accidents caused while drivers are texting or are distracted from using their cell phones. Our hopes, as insurance professionals, is that this bill will directly impact the behaviors of drivers in Florida,” said Stacey Heacock Weeks, Executive Vice Present at Heacock Insurance.
Wireless Communications While Driving Bill (CS/HB 107) was supported by businesses, industries and law enforcement organizations that make up the FL DNT TXTNDRV Coalition. Logan McFaddin is the Regional Manager for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association and a member of the coalition. In a statement to the coalition he said, “The unfortunate reality is traffic deaths across the nation are increasing and Florida is one of eight states that has seen a 5.8 percent spike in fatalities in 2018, with driver behavior being one of the main reasons for lives lost in car crashes”.
The Florida House’s passage came a few days after the Florida Senate passed the bill, which had additional directives regarding school and construction zones, requiring drivers to use hands-free devices if they want to talk on their phones in those designated areas.
Now that Governor DeSantis has signed the new bill, starting July 1st, changes will be phased in throughout the next six months. For drivers like you and others, that means between October 1st and December 31st, law enforcement officers can only give verbal and written warnings to violators. It will not be until January 1, 2020 that officers will begin issuing actual citations to violators.
“The purpose of this bill is to help save lives and keep motorists focused on the road, not on the device in their hands,” said Heacock Weeks. “People continue to text and drive, even with all the data showing the dangers of texting while driving. We think once it becomes a primary offense, drivers will think twice before using their cell phones and will make the roads safer and save lives. Which will hopefully have the added benefit of decreases in auto insurance premiums due to the reduction of auto accidents and losses.”
Once in place, the Wireless Communications While Driving Bill calls for those who are given citations for to have three violations points added to their driver licenses. First-time offenders can take part in a wireless device driving safety program and once finished, will have costs and points waived by a court clerk.
Currently, 43 other states have laws which make texting while driving a primary offense. Once it becomes law, a first violation will mean a $30 fine plus court costs, which could result in a total fine up to $108. A violation committed within five years after the first one will be a $60 fine plus court costs.
“In reality, the fines are small amounts to pay when you consider the lives the new law will save, the loss of damage to property and the ability to make our roadways safer and more efficient for day-to-day travel,” added Heacock Weeks.
The new texting while driving bill will also require law enforcement agencies to collect data on offenders and report those totals from across the state to Governor DeSantis, the Florida Senate President and the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives starting in February 2020.
The end result of what should soon become law will be drivers having more focus on the road than the ringing or beeping signal of a new text and what it says. “That’s what it should be about - saving money, property, and most importantly, lives,” said Heacock Weeks.