Police can stop drivers in Fort Lauderdale and throughout Florida and charge them with texting while driving or engaging in other forms of prohibited cell phone use under a new law that will fully go into effect on January 1, 2020. At Englander Peebles, we want you to stay informed of any changes in Florida which can affect your rights as a car accident victim and as a motorist in general. So, let’s take a closer look at questions you may have about Florida’s new texting while driving law.
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Didn’t Florida Already Have a Texting While Driving Law?
Yes. Former Governor Rick Scott signed a texting while driving ban into law in May 2013, and it took effect five months later. However, Florida’s new texting law, House Bill 107, is different from the old texting law in two important ways:
The law prohibits drivers from talking on hand-held devices when they pass through school or construction zones where workers are present. However, drivers can use hands-free devices, or Bluetooth technology. The old law had no ban.
The law allows police officers to stop drivers solely for suspected violations of the texting or hand-held bans. The old law allowed for only “secondary enforcement.” In other words, an officer could cite a driver for texting while driving only if the officer pulled over the driver for another traffic violation.
With the new Florida law, only three states now lack primary enforcement of their texting bans Ohio, Nebraska and South Dakota according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
When Does the New Florida Texting Law Go Into Effect?
Technically, it already is in effect. The law went into effect on October 1, 2019. However, through December 31, 2019, law enforcement officers can only issue verbal or written warnings to drivers. Starting January 1, 2020, officers can issue tickets. The law applies to drivers throughout the state, including Miami, Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale.
What Happens Now if I Get Caught Texting and Driving in Florida?
If you get charged and convicted for texting and driving in Florida, you can face some fairly serious consequences. If it is your first offense, it can lead to:
- A $30 fine
- Court costs and fees
- Three points on your driver’s license record (which may, in turn, boost your insurance rate).
The law provides a few punishment alternatives for first-time offenders. For instance, if you can show that you have bought equipment that allows for hands-free use of your phone, you may be able to get your charge dismissed. If you complete a wireless communication device driving safety course, you may get a waiver for costs and fees.
If you get ticketed for another texting violation within three years of your previous one, then you can face a $60 fine in addition to court costs, fees and three points on your driver’s license. Again, you should expect to see your insurance costs go up.
Can I Still Use Google Maps or Other Navigation Apps on My Phone?
Yes, the law allows you to still use your device for “navigation purposes.” You can also receive messages that are:
- Safety-related (such as weather or emergency alerts)
- Radio broadcasts
- Data which your motor vehicle primarily uses.
However, you cannot use your phone for typing, sending or reading messages, which includes not only texts but also e-mails and Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram messages.
Does the New Florida Law Allow Anyone to Text While Driving?
Under the new Florida law, you can text while driving only if you are:
- Performing your official duties as a police officer, firefighter, EMS provider, or another professional who is operating an authorized emergency vehicle
- Reporting an emergency, crime, or suspected criminal activity to the police
- Communicating with someone else through hands-free use of your device
- Operating an autonomous, or “self-driving,” vehicle.
You can also text if you are stopped in your car such as at a stop sign or red light, or when you are pulled over to a safe place on the side of the road.
Can a Police Officer See My Phone After a Traffic Stop or Accident?
To prove a violation of the new law, police officers will need to search the phone. However, the law strikes a balance between law enforcement needs and individual privacy rights. Under the law, a police officer who stops you for a suspected violation must inform you of your right to decline a search of your phone. Additionally, the officer cannot:
- Search the device without a warrant
- Take the device from you while waiting for a search warrant
- Use coercion or other improper methods to get consent to search the device.
The law states that a driver’s consent for a search of the device must be “voluntary and unequivocal.”
Will the New Law Affect Texting Accident Lawsuits in Florida?
If a distracted driver causes you to suffer serious bodily injury or the loss of a loved one, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against that driver for a full recovery of your damages, including pain and suffering. The new law would allow you or your attorney from Englander Peebles to use the driver’s cell phone billing records to establish whether the driver was texting or using a hand-held device in violation of the texting law. This evidence plays a crucial role in establishing that a driver was negligent per se, or negligent as a matter of law.
Will This New Law Really Prevent Car Accidents, Injuries, and Deaths in Florida?
That’s the goal. If drivers know that they face the risk of fines, court costs, fees, driver’s license points, and higher insurance rates, they will hopefully put down their phones and focus on the road instead. However, a texting law is only one part of the equation. Law enforcement officers will still need to vigilantly enforce the law, and our state will need to continue to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Ultimately, individuals will still need to make safe choices when they get behind the wheel.
Get Help from a Fort Lauderdale Texting Accident Lawyer Today
If you believe that a texting driver caused an accident that seriously injured you or caused the loss of a loved one, contact Englander Peebles, Attorneys at Law, right away. We can handle all aspects of your case and aggressively protect your rights when dealing with insurance companies. It all starts with a free consultation. Call or reach us online now to learn more.