Cell phone use while driving is a leading cause of car accidents and road fatalities in Florida. Talking on the phone, using social media, and texting are some reasons people use the phone while driving. Studies have found that distracted driving is compared to driving under the influence of alcohol when it comes to the risks it presents on the road.
More than 50,000 distracted-driving accidents are recorded every year in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). Those collisions kill more than 300 people, leaving 3,500 others with serious injuries. In 2018, Florida saw a 6% increase in traffic fatalities, which led to the enactment of The Wireless Communications While Driving Law. This law was designed to reduce electronic distractions and make cell phone use while driving a primary offense.
Cell Phone Laws in Florida
In recent years, Florida legislatures have made efforts to ban cell phone use while driving. In 2019, Governor DeSantis signed a bill that makes texting and driving a primary offense. Florida Statute 316.305went into effect on July 1, 2019. Under this law, drivers can be stopped and cited for texting and driving. Section 316.306, the other part of the statute, came into force on October 1, 2019. This asserts that law enforcement can pull over a motorist and issue a citation for using a handheld device.
To simplify Sections 316.305 and 316.306, using a handheld device while behind the wheel is illegal.
- Phone Calls While Driving in Florida
You can’t hold your phone while behind the wheel to make or receive a call. Using earphones, headphones, or headsets while driving is also illegal. However, it is not illegal to receive or make calls while driving (with some exceptions). Instead, you can use voice-activated, hands-free devices to talk on the phone while driving.
When driving in school zones, construction zones, and designated school crossings, using your phone or any wireless communication device is illegal. This applies if you’re driving or stopped in these areas.
- Texting While Driving
While statute 316.305 only mentions texting, the ban applies to any reading of electronic information while driving. A driver cannot operate a vehicle while entering or receiving data or manually typing characters into a wireless communications device. In other words, a driver cannot do any of the following:
- Send or read emails
- Play online game
- Use social media
- Send or read instant messages
- Use any app of any type
- Send or read a text
Voice texting, however, is allowed. And if a driver uses GPS maps and directions, they must enter data into the GPS before driving.
- Phone Use While Stopped
Statutes 316.305 and 316.306 ban the use of handheld devices while driving. If a vehicle is stationary, these rules do not apply. That means that a driver can read texts or make a call at a traffic light or when stuck in traffic.
Law Enforcement Search for a Phone
As discussed, using a handheld cell phone and driving is a primary offense in Florida. This means that a motorist can be pulled over and issued a ticket if seen violating the law. However, pulling you over does not give law enforcement probable cause to search your phone without a warrant. In fact, an officer must advise you of your right to decline a search of your cell phone when they pull you over for violations.
Penalties for Violating the Florida Cell Phone Law
Under Statute 316.305, the penalties for texting while driving are:
1st Violation: This is considered a non-moving traffic violation. You’ll be fined $30; no points will be added to your driving record.
2nd Violation: Classed as a moving traffic violation that attracts a $60 fine. You will also be asked to appear in court and get three points against your license. If you caused an accident due to cell phone use while driving, 6 points will be charged against your license. These points will remain on your driving record for three years.
The penalties for using a device in a school zone or work zone under Statute 316.306 are:
Any Violation: Any violation of statute 316.306 is classed as a moving violation that attracts a $60 fine. It includes 3 points against the driver’s license.
While Florida is more lenient than many other states regarding cell phone use while driving, it’s important to remember that distracted driving is dangerous and increases the risk of an accident. It’s best advised to minimize distractions from cellular devices while driving.
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