New Year New Laws-The Orlando Times
New Year Brings Along New Laws To Florida
A driver uses cellphone behind the wheel. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, file)
COMPILED BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
FLORIDA - As the new decade arrives, it is bringing new legislation to the state of Florida. These changes that will being in 2020 can have a big impact on people in the state, with the biggest being the crackdown on texting and driving.
In Florida, texting while driving is now a primary offense. Starting Wednesday, the Florida Highway Patrol will join other law enforcement agencies in writing tickets for the offense.
Each day in the U.S., nine people are killed and 1,153 people are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver, reported the CDC.
In response, on Friday May 17, Florida Gov. Ron De Santis signed House Bill 107 which made texting while driving in Florida a primary traffic offense punishable by fines. The bill originally passed the Florida House by a vote of 108 - 7.
“There’s going to always be education going on, however now it’s going to be enforcement time,” Lt. Derrick Rahming of the highway patrol told the Tampa Bay Times. “We never want anyone to learn the hard way, so we gave everyone six months to learn about this law. But, now come Jan. 1, it’s a primary offense and we are going to start issuing citations.”
Previously, officers could only cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for another violation. Florida will become one of the last states to make texting while driving a primary traffic offense.
"There have been too many families impacted by the dangers of texting and driving," said Tampa Rep. Jackie Toledo, according to Patch. "Whether we are drivers, passengers, students on the way to school, construction workers on the road or law enforcement, this law protects us all."
The first offense is punishable by a $30 fine, for a second violation within five years the fine is $60. Court costs and fees also apply, making the cost possibly inflate to about $100-$150. Additionally, three points can be added to the driver’s license.
"Using a cell phone is a dangerous distraction for drivers," Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan told Patch. "There has never been a text message sent or received that is important enough to endanger an innocent life."
According to the Tampa Bay Times, highway patrol troopers have issued about 800 warnings.
“I think it’s right around where it needs to be,” Lt. Rahming told them. “Throughout the state, we’ve had 1,151 citations issued (by all law enforcement) since the law started in July.”
Because of concerns the law could lead to racial profiling, officers are required to record the race and ethnicity of every violator.
The new law will also ban the use of any handheld wireless communications devices in school and construction zones.
"Studies have shown that texting while driving is one of the worst of all driving distractions and a recent study ranked Florida as the second worst state for distracted driving," DeSantis told The AP. "It's my hope that by taking action to address distracted drivers today, that we will be able to make our roads safer and hopefully prevent some of these crashes that we've seen, injuries and, unfortunately, some of the deaths that we've seen."
In fact, according to Arlington Toyota, the top distractions for drivers are: 1) Generally distracted or “lost in thought” 2) Cell phone use 3) Outside person, object or event 4) Other occupants.
The texting ban does not apply to a driver using a navigation device or system or to a driver whose vehicle is stationary.
The New Year will usher in other changes as well:
These new laws are sure to impact the daily lives of many Floridians. Nevertheless, many see them as positive changes as the New Year and decade commence.
"It is almost impossible to enforce texting while driving as a secondary offense," said Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, as reported by The AP. "Making texting while driving a primary offense will allow law enforcement to enforce the law and to save a lot of lives."