Law
6:00 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Florida's Texting While Driving Ban Takes Effect Amid New Effort To Strengthen It

Despite the new ban on texting while driving, some say the law lacks real teeth.
Despite the new ban on texting while driving, some say the law lacks real teeth.
Credit Creative Commons via Wikipedia User Ed Brown

Florida's new law banning texting while driving went into effect on October 1.

Governor Rick Scott signed SB 52 into law back in May, making Florida the 41st state to ban texting while driving. To some, though, the law does not go far enough.

The brunt of the new law is meant to deter drivers from sending or reading text messages. But it bans pretty much anything that requires "manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters." So no emailing, searching the Internet, or dialing a phone number.

The law still allows use of phones for reporting crimes to police, navigating, getting weather alerts and listening to radio broadcasts.

Using a voice-operated command system like Siri is also fine. So if you want to explore the new male-Siri voice, which is part of the new iOS 7 update, go right ahead. If you are an Android user, you a have a plethora of options from Skyvi and Iris to Robin and Vlingo.

Getting a citation for breaking this law, though, might be difficult. For one, it's what's called a secondary offense. This means that you have to be pulled over for something else in order to get a texting while driving citation. Run a red light while texting and you'll get a citation. Expired plates and texting? Citation. Texting alone? No citation.

Like any other infraction, the law enforcement officer would have to see you texting to give you a citation, a bit more difficult to catch than rolling through a stop sign.

"If you want to ban something, ban it. Make it against the law." - State Senator Maria Sachs

The enforcement issues are why State Senator Maria Sachs (D-Boca Raton) wants to create a stronger law. She held a press conference today announcing that she will file a bill to amend the ban. It would make texting while driving a primary offense, meaning that you can be pulled over just for texting. Sachs said making the law more enforceable will work to promote what she calls a culture of safety.

"That’s why I'm not putting all of these additional provisions in there. I want it to be little by little so people begin to understand that they cannot text and drive. And what we're doing is building this culture of safety so that kids don’t even think twice about it,” she said.

Texting bans have often been compared to the seatbelt laws, the first of which passed in New York State in 1984. Today 33 states have primary seatbelt laws in place, 16 have secondary while New Hampshire has no seatbelt law in place.

"I know how tough it is for law enforcement agents to really [tell] the difference between primary and secondary, it's dangerous for them," said Sachs. "And if you want to ban something, ban it. Make it against the law."

She was joined at the press conference by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel who supports her effort. The proposed change will make it clearer for law enforcement officers, she hopes.

"I don’t want this to be a gotcha bill, I want this to be something that is just second nature to everybody," Sachs said.

If her bill passes, it won't take effect until 2014. In the meantime, she hopes people will figure out that the consequences of texting while driving are more severe than a citation.