BREVARD COUNTY — We’ve all seen the “don’t text and drive” campaigns, but how many of us actually drive hands-free? Well, starting on July 1, police officers will have the right to pull over drivers for texting and driving.
The new bill, which was recently signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, makes texting and driving a primary offense.
Back in 2013, texting and driving was signed into law as a secondary offense, meaning police officers could only cite drivers for texting if pulled over for a different violation, according to Kim Smith, education and safety coordinator for the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization.
The State House voted 108-7 in favor of a bill that makes texting and driving a primary offense, according to nonprofit Bike/Walk Central Florida’s website.
The bill also creates a provision for work zones and school zones in that drivers must remain hands-free while in those areas.
“The other little kink in it is that it strictly covers texting,” Ms. Smith explained. “It rules out if you’re using your GPS, and if you’re stationary it’s not going to be a violation... so there are still deficiencies with the law but it is an upgrade from where we were.”
A warning period will begin July 1, with citations going into effect Jan. 1, 2020. In school and work zones, citations can start to be handed out on Oct. 1.
A first violation will be issued at $30 with court fees up to $108. A second violation within five years is a $60 fine, plus court costs.
“People don’t understand that at the speeds we travel, the time it takes you to look down and back up, even for a quick second, you’ve traveled the length of one, two, or three football fields,” Ms. Smith said. “That’s quite a distance that you’re traveling and you don’t even realize. I think humans, by nature, over-estimate their abilities.”
According to the Signal Four Analytics website (accessed by Ms. Smith), in 2017 Brevard County had issued 30 texting while driving tickets while in 2018 it decreased to 28 tickets. The driver had been pulled over for a different violation, but the officer was able to prove that texting had been involved, Ms. Smith added. The Signal Four Analytics website is a state site for crash data and violations.
The same website also stated that in 2018, Brevard County recorded 15,145 crashes that ranged from a fender bender to a fatality.
“Directly related to those crashes, I was able to find five where texting and driving was cited as a violation in that crash,” Ms. Smith said. “Then I went out and counted how many of those [15,145] crashes reported distracted driving, and that came to 1,581. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were texting, but there was some kind of distraction.”
Although texting may not always be proved as a violation, a driver could still be cited with careless driving, a failure to maintain single lane, following too closely or speeding, Ms. Smith said.
“A lot of the other violations could be something being cited but what caused that was the person messing with their phone,” Ms. Smith added.
For more information, call (321) 690-6890 or visit www.iyield4peds.org.