As Florida's texting while driving ban goes into effect, local police officers are still figuring out the best way to enforce the new law.
"This is something new to all of us," said Freddy Cruz, a sergeant with the City of Miami Police Department. "This is going to be quite a challenge, but from an educational standpoint, we have to educate the public on the dangers [of texting while driving].
"We don’t want to be the bad guys. Obviously, these laws are put in place because of instances that have happened," Cruz said, referring to the more than 4,500 accidents attributed to distracted drivers in Florida last year.
But because the law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, a police officer can pull over drivers only if they are doing something else illegal as well.
Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach), who is sponsoring a bill to toughen the law and make texting while driving a primary offense, goes so far as to say that the law puts police officers in a bind.
"I know how tough it is for law enforcement to really make the difference between primary and secondary. In other words, we're putting an additional risk burden on a police officer to find probable cause to stop the vehicle," she said.
Cruz agrees that changing the ban to a primary offense would help officers. But he adds that even now, "if the officer sees an infraction of some sort, he can go ahead and stop the person," He described one possible scenario where drivers could be cited if they are texting at routine check points set up to monitor expired driver's licenses or missing registration tags.
Another issue is how to see and prove that a potential violator is actually typing while driving. Remember, the new law bans any activity that requires a driver to enter multiple letters, numbers or characters, like emoticons. Furthermore, the ban extends to most electronic devices, such as navigation devices. But again, in order to get a citation, the officer has to actually catch you in the act.
"The officer will have to make his observation as with any other traffic infraction and then determine if he or she should write a summons," said Cruz.
As with any other traffic ticket, South Floridians have a right to their day in court.