Issues with Florida’s Texting While Driving Law
By: Grace Hancock
In 2019, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new law making texting while driving a primary traffic offense in the Sunshine State in an effort to crack down on driver distraction. Democratic Representative Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach and Republican Representative Jackie Toledo of Tampa both pioneered this law. Offenders will receive a fine of $30 for their first offense under the texting while driving law. A second offense within five years will cost offenders a $60 fine and 3 points on their driver’s license.
Florida is among the 47 states and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) that have some sort of texting while driving ban. At least 15 states have laws that ban all phone use while driving.
Despite the repercussions drivers face for breaking this law, many official state figures say that the consequences aren’t enough. Additionally, there are many loopholes to this law that have local agencies worried about enforcement. Recent statistics show that Florida’s texting while driving law simply isn’t being enforced.
Recent Texting While Driving Statistics in Florida
According to an article published by the Orlando Sentinel earlier this year in March: “Florida’s  census of texting violations, published earlier this year, is missing tickets entirely from more than 20 of the state’s 67 sheriff’s departments and at least 56 of 155 municipal police departments.”
One of Florida’s most populated areas, Broward County, is among the 20 sheriff departments that did not submit any record of texting violations during 2020 to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Florida’s census of texting violations also contained at least one major error that overcounted texting tickets by the hundreds. It was only after the census’s publication that the error was discovered, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
One of the original spearheaders of this 2019 law, Rep. Slosberg, says that these statistics show that the current law is ineffective. Rep. Slosberg is fighting to expand the law to ban all phone use while driving. If a complete ban on hand-held phone use while driving was put into law, Florida would join the 15+ states that have already made such a ban. As of now, Rep. Slosberg has not made any success in this endeavor. There are no states that have a ban on hands-free phone use while driving.
There are many loopholes to Florida’s texting while driving law. For example, you may get out of a texting while driving ticket if you tell the officer that you’d been on your phone using a navigation application, such as Google Maps or Waze. The police officer cannot take your phone to verify whether or not you’d been texting while driving without your permission; the officer would need a search warrant to do so.
You may also text while your car is stationary, like at a stoplight. An officer may only ticket you for texting while driving if they suspect you – the driver – to be texting while your car is in motion.
Other Issues with Florida’s Texting While Driving Law
Florida’s 2019 texting while driving law has also received criticism because of one of its key provisions. The provision requires authorities to document the race and ethnicity of each driver ticketed for this offense. The provision also requires for the report to be sent annually to the governor and other Florida legislative leaders. The lack of accounting from so many jurisdictions makes it impossible to determine reliably whether minorities have been targeted under this new law.
Florida’s 2019 texting while driving law makes it illegal for drivers to be holding a cell phone when driving through active construction sites or school zones. The same law does not apply to hands-free wireless communications devices such as BlueTooth.