In 2019, Florida enacted a law that made texting and driving a primary offense with a $30.00 fine for a first violation that typically rises to $100. But Florida’s law, which could help prevent distracted driving accidents, is not aggressively enforced and contains loopholes.
Low number of citations
Distracted driving, including texting and driving, caused over 56,000 accidents and almost 300 fatalities in Florida in 2019, the year with the latest available data. But according to official state figures for 2020, the first year when police could enforce the new anti-texting law, law enforcement across Florida issued only 3,174 citations even though there are 15 million licensed motorists in the state. Police in Florida usually issue more citations each year for more benign traffic offenses such as carpool lane violations or failure to use turn signals.
The Florida Highway patrol was responsible for issuing approximately one-third of these citations. Over 100 law enforcement agencies and at least 30 local police departments issued no tickets.
Enforcement was spotty or even nonexistent across Florida:
- Police in Miami-Dade County, with an estimated 2 million motorists, issued 295 texting citations or about six each week.
- Deputies in Palm Beach wrote 38.
- Orange County sheriffs and police with jurisdiction over Orlando issued 126 tickets.
- Monroe County deputy sheriffs in the Keys issued 68 texting citations.
- Alachua County, home of the University of Florida, issued no citations even though it has over 50,000 college students.
- Alachua County issued six tickets.
- Baker, DeSoto, Lafayette, Levy, Nassau, Suwannee, and Union counties issued no tickets for this offense.
- St Johns County, which includes St. Augustine, issued 17 tickets.
Critics also said that the state is not meeting the law’s requirement to comprehensively track the number of drivers cited for violations in Florida to determine whether police targeted minorities. Many jurisdictions have not compiled this data.
This law still allows drivers to make phone calls, check weather or traffic alerts and use their devices for navigation unless they are in school or construction zones. These are hand’s free locations where using a PED for any activity while driving is illegal.
Enforcement is also difficult because drivers may use their phone at a stoplight or anytime their vehicle is stationery. Police can cite drivers only when their vehicle is in motion and they have a reasonable belief that the motorist is texting. Drivers may require police to obtain a search warrant before they can look at their phone.
Victims of a distracted driving accident can suffer serious injuries. Attorneys can help them, and their families seek compensation.