Florida’s ban on texting while driving is slightly more than a year old. The law replaced a previous law that classified texting while driving as a secondary offense, which meant that police could only ticket drivers for the infraction when they stopped them for some other reason. Now, texting alone without any other traffic violations is enough for the police to initiate a traffic stop.

Some drivers knowingly ignore the law, while others may break the law unwittingly because they do not know what is allowed and what isn’t while behind the wheel. This primer provides some basics regarding the state law on cellphone use while driving that went into effect on July 1, 2019.

What is prohibited? Using a cellphone to text, email, instant message, or anything that requires “manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication​, including but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging.”

What about phone calls? Many states require hands-free operation of a cellphone to make phone calls, but Florida still allows calls and only requires hands-free technology while driving in a school zone or construction zone. Even though it is not illegal to talk on the phone without hands-free technology, if involved in a crash, it can be considered in determining who was at fault.  It is best for drivers to obtain and use hands-free technology to prevent an accident even though it is not yet illegal to talk on the phone without it.

What is the penalty for texting while driving? A first offense gets a $30 fine; a second offense costs $60. Points are also added to a violator’s driver’s license. Court costs will increase the fines to over $100.

Is texting allowed if I am stopped at a light? The restrictions only apply to drivers while a vehicle is in motion, so you can text or otherwise use a cellphone while at a stop light, stop sign or other times when your car is not in motion.

Can I use Waze or another Navigation Application?  The texting ban does not apply to using a navigation device or system for navigation.  However, the same warnings apply as talking on the phone without hands-free.   It is a distraction and can be used as evidence of fault in case of an accident.

Can police confiscate a phone to prove I was texting? No. If a citation is fought, police officers will testify about what they observed. A police officer can only view your phone or confiscate it with a warrant signed by a judge.  If a police officer asks to view your phone you can legally say no and refuse absent a warrant.

Could the cellphone law open the door to increased police stops based on racial profiling? Lawmakers shared that concern, so the law requires police to track the race of people who are stopped for texting while driving.

A necessary law

Some Florida lawmakers wanted stricter laws against cellphone use while driving, but they could not get them approved. Studies have ranked Florida as the second-worst state in the country for distracted driving after Louisiana. There were more than 45,000 distracted driving accidents in the state in 2016 and 233 resulted in death.

If you are injured or if a loved one is killed in a motor vehicle accident that is caused by a distracted driver, it is wise to enlist the help of a knowledgeable personal injury attorney immediately who can help you recover the full amount you deserve for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.