Starting Oct. 1 texting while driving will be illegal for the more than 14 million licensed drivers in Florida thanks to a new state law.
“This law will save lives,” said Seminole Police Department Police Chief William Latchford. “Banning texting will force drivers to stay focused on the road.”
Florida lawmakers tried for nearly five years to ban texting but were continuously blocked by Republican House leaders. It wasn’t until new House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) showed his support this year that the bill (SB 52) finally made its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
Scott signed the bill into law May 28 in Miami, making Florida the 41st state to ban text messaging while driving.
Each year more than 200,000 crashes nationwide involve drivers who are texting, according to the National Safety Council. In Florida alone, texting contributed to at least 189 collisions in 2012. However, many text-related crashes go unreported.
When drivers sends or receives a text it takes their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field blind at 55 mph.
Newly licensed driver, Brydgett Koontz, 16, said when it comes to texting, whatever it is can wait and if it is that important, pull over.
At any given moment 660,000 drivers are using their cell phones, whether it is for talking, texting, emailing or navigation.
“Right now it is out of control,” Tribal member Laverne Thomas said in regards to electronic use while driving. “I hope the new law makes people see that texting and driving is a serious problem – serious enough to pass a law.”
While texting when driving will be illegal and will come with a $30 first-time fine, the law has several exceptions.
Florida’s texting while driving ban is a secondary offense, meaning the driver must first be pulled over for committing another violation such as speeding or running a stop sign. If a driver is pulled over, law enforcement officials are not allowed to force him to hand over his phone for proof he was texting or emailing.
Furthermore, the ban does not apply to motorists at red lights or stuck in traffic. If the vehicle is stationary the driver can use a phone to text or email. Drivers can also text or email to report criminal activity and can use talk-to-text devices such as the iPhone’s Siri.
Even with the loopholes Tribal member George Micco is a supporter of the new law.
“We are all guilty of driving and texting, whether you admit it or not,” Micco said. “[The law] makes you at least think about not doing it. But like any law it will be broken, especially if it is not enforced.”
He said as a parent, however, he will definitely enforce the law. Emma Johns, another parent and supporter of the law, said she will also enforce it with her daughter approaching the legal driving age.
“My daughter will sign a statement promising not to text and drive before she is handed the keys to her car,” Johns said. “Though this may not prevent it, I know that she will have this promise on her conscience each time she may decide to text while driving.”
Parents are not the only ones who plan to enforce the no-texting law. Tribal members can expect SPD to crack down on the ban and not take it lightly.
“All drivers can expect to be stopped and handled accordingly with regard to the new texting while driving laws,” Chief Latchford said. “We will educate the public to ensure they are well aware and positioned to ensure safety comes first while driving a vehicle on the roadways.”
To help educate Tribal members on the new Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law SPD will pass out fliers on the reservations. They will also speak at community meetings in October, utilize message boards and provide information at upcoming PAC meetings.
Using a phone or any other portable device while driving increases the risk of getting into a crash by three times. Texting is the biggest distraction, taking the driver’s hands off the wheel, their eyes off the road and their mind off driving.
“There are way too many drivers on the roads and even more distractions,” Thomas said. “Maybe with some consequence we are less likely to text and drive.”