Florida Texting and Driving Laws
Posted in General on May 1, 2018
In 2016, 3,450 Americans died in accidents involving distracted drivers. Cell phones are arguably the most dangerous forms of driver distraction, yet approximately 481,000 drivers are using mobile devices while driving at any given time during daylight hours. Like most states, Florida has enacted some sort of “cell phone law” restricting the use of electronic devices behind the wheel. Understanding these laws can help keep you safe and law-abiding while driving in Florida. Here are the details of Florida’s current texting and driving laws.
Why Do Lawmakers Ban Texting and Driving?
To operate a motor vehicle safely, a driver must keep both hands on the wheel, both eyes on the road, and their mind on the driving task. These are the basics of being a safe and prudent driver. Texting while driving engages a driver in all three forms of distraction: manual, visual, and cognitive. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), looking at a phone for five seconds to read or send a text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour with your eyes closed.
In the amount of time it takes to send a text message, a driver can easily collide with another vehicle, bicyclist, or pedestrian. Putting the phone down can save a life. Florida Statutes Section 316.305 contains the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.” The purpose of the law was to improve roadway safety for all road users, prevent accidents related to texting and driving, and reduce injuries, deaths, damage, and healthcare costs related to car accidents. It was also to give law enforcement officers the ability to stop drivers and issue texting drivers citations as a secondary offense.
The Details of Florida’s Texting and Driving Ban
According to Florida’s texting and driving law, a driver cannot operate a vehicle while “manually typing or entering multiple characters, such as symbols, numbers, or letters” into a cell phone. The law extends to all forms of messages, not just texting. Drivers cannot send, read, or type emails, instant messages, or other forms of written communication while driving. The only exceptions to the texting-and-driving ban are the following:
- A driver is performing his/her official duties as an authorized emergency, law enforcement, or fire service professional
- The driver is notifying authorities of suspicious or criminal activity
- The driver is reporting an emergency
- The driver is receiving messages that relate to the safety and navigation of the vehicle, an emergency situation, weather alerts, or radio broadcasts
- The driver is using a hand-held device for navigation purposes
- The driver is using a hands-free or voice-activated device to send or read messages
- The driver is operating an autonomous vehicle in autonomous mode
The law refers to all “wireless communication devices,” including tablets. Any handheld device “designed or intended to receive or send text or character-based messages,” and that allows text communications can qualify as a prohibited handheld device in Florida. When it comes to texting and driving, Florida’s laws are secondary. This means a police officer needs another reason to pull the driver over, such as speeding or swerving. Illegal cell phone use cannot be the primary or only reason the officer conducts the traffic stop.
Penalties for Breaking the Law
Florida’s cell phone laws are relatively lax compared to many other states. Florida does not ban the use of hand-held cell phones to make phone calls behind the wheel. Drivers are free to use handheld or hands-free devices to make phone calls while driving. Drivers can also use hands-free or voice-operated devices to make phone calls, send messages, and more. If a driver does break the state’s texting and driving ban, he or she can receive a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable with a fine between $100 and $200. If a texting driver causes an accident, he or she could be guilty of reckless driving and/or vehicular homicide.