Florida Texting Laws
Florida Distracted Driving Law
1. Preemption Law prohibits localities from enacting distracted driving bans.
Florida's Texting While Driving Stand
Currently, the state of Florida does not have any laws on the books the prohibit texting and driving, or the use of a cell phone while driving. A 2012 bill that held the most hope for changes to Florida’s legislation was Sen. Nancy Detert’s plan to ban texting while driving; although the bill was able to advance through four votes in the Senate it has yet to be signed off on or enacted. This bill (SB 416) was similar to Detert’s SB 158 of 2011, a bill that died in the Senate Transportation Committee.
SB 416 was amended from Detert’s original bill as a “secondary law enforcement offense” in an attempt to make it more attractive to long-resistant lawmakers. Despite these efforts, SB 416 was never considered as House Speaker Dean Cannon feels there are a variety of distracted behaviors comparatively as dangerous as texting and driving. In this regard, Cannon opposes “one more layer of prohibitive behavior” from state government.
Additional Legislation and Opinion Regarding Distracted Driving
A recent study shows that more than 70 percent of Florida voters support a statewide ban on text messaging while driving. It appears Democrats favor distracted driving legislation over Republicans, as 78 percent supported such legislation versus 66 percent Republican. In January 2012 State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff voted against Sen. Nancy Detert’s texting legislation during a budget subcommittee. Sen. Bogdanoff is known for opposing this type of legislation as she single-handedly killed a House texting and driving plan. Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) was quoted as stating that texting legislation is “intellectually dishonest.” Others seem to share her opinion as Gov. Rick Scott (also a Republican) vetoed HB 689 in 2011 that would have required the DMV to provide education on the dangers of electronic distracted driving.
2012 Cellphone and Texting Legislation
Aside from the aforementioned SB 416, the following bills have been introduced to Florida Lawmakers in 2012: (it should be noted that all of the following legislation is currently dead)
SB 122-This bill requires driving schools to have course content relating to the dangers of distracted driving. SB 122 was amended and approved by the Transportation Committee, as well as approved by the Education Pre-K Committee. Despite these approvals, SB 122 then died on the budget subcommittee.
HB299- This bill ought to completely ban text messaging while driving. HB 299 would add 6-point penalties if the driver was the cause of an accident, due to the result of texting or use of any form of wireless communications device.
HB 39-this bill would require motorists cited for traffic offenses while using handheld wireless communication devices to appear in person before a “designated official.” Fines would include a $50 levy for using the electronic device and $100 if the device was used in a school zone. These fines do not include associated fees. This bill would also require the issuing officer to note the handheld device in the citation, as well as whether or not the offense occurred in a school zone.
HB 187-would ban those drivers age 18 and under from using handheld cellular phones and other related electronic communications devices. The bill would also prohibit school bus drivers from texting and talking while driving. This would be a non-moving violation.
SB 930-sought to prohibit those drivers age 18 and under from using handheld cell phones and other electronic equipment while driving. SB 930 would be a secondary enforcement with a penalty of one month license suspension. This bill would also require driving classes to incorporate distracted driving content into their coursework.
Bills introduced in 2009-2011 have all met similar fates regarding passage from Florida lawmakers. In 2011, Rep. Irv Slosberg told the News-Press that the chance of success for his co-sponsored text messaging legislation were “slim and none.” Opinions such as these have prompted responses from FL news outlets such as the Miami Herald which editorialized the following: “Clearly, the Legislature is acting as hand-maiden to the telecommunications industry on this issue. When local governments, including Miami-Dade County, banned hand-held cell phone use in cars a few years ago, the Legislature promptly approved a law forbidding local governments from regulating cell phone use.”
In 2011, the Legislature rejected or ignored any and all bills that would limit drivers’ use of cell phones and other similar wireless communication devices.
Florida Statistics and Reports Regarding Distracted Driving
Florida state records show that during the first 10 months of 2011, electronic distraction led to 2,218 accidents with 145 of those linked specifically to texting and driving.
The Florida Department of Transportation has begun a “Stay Alive, Just Drive,” campaign in an attempt to target drivers who text, talk on cell phones or engage in other distracted driving behaviors.
Florida’s counties and cities are prohibited from enacting their own cell phone restrictions due to former Gov. Jeb Bush’s direct intervention.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles claims cell phones are frequently cited as factors in serious accidents, but have not taken a position on hands-free legislation.
Broward County’s School System and its employee union have agreed on penalties for bus drivers who text or use cell phones while driving. If caught texting employees will be terminated; those who make a call will be placed on a five-day suspension, and terminated should they commit a second offense.
The Lake County Sherriff’s Office has prohibited its deputies from texting and driving. Those in violation of the ban will be subjected to a letter of reprimand, suspension, or even termination. Deputies in Volusia County have similar restrictions.
Numbers indicate that distracted driving is the number one cause of fatal traffic accidents in Broward County.
A policy in effect since October 2010, states that the Florida Highway Patrol has ordered its troopers to cease using handheld cell phones while driving; hands-free devices, however, are exempt. This policy also requires troopers to pull over prior to and while using a GPS system.