Clear75° WeatherClear75° Weather

Rick Scott signs texting-while-driving ban, but does it have teeth?

MIAMI

It may not be the strongest law, but texting while driving will be prohibited in Florida starting Oct. 1.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the ban into law Tuesday at an afternoon ceremony in Miami. The ban prohibits motorists from using cellphones to text or email while operating a vehicle in most circumstances.

The in most circumstances, however, comes with plenty of wiggle room.

Drivers can continue to use phones for navigation, weather and to listen to the radio, and they can also use talk-to-text devices such as the iPhone's Siri.

Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, can pull a driver over only if they've committed some other infraction, such as speeding. They also cannot require motorists to hand over their phone as proof they've been texting or emailing.

That means enforcing the ban, which carries a first-time fine of $30, could prove difficult.

Still, supporters say it's a critical first step that can affect the habits of Florida's 14 million licensed drivers, akin to the seat belt legislation of the 1980s.

"What I want is for mothers and dads to be able to say 'Don't forget, don't text while driving, it's is against the law,' " said Senate sponsor Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who has been pushing for a ban for four years. "I can guarantee you none of your children is going to pull down the Florida state statutes and say, 'Boy, it's only a second offense.' Either we have a law or we don't have a law."

With Scott's signature, Florida becomes the 41st state to ban texting while driving — though rules vary state to state. Scott signed the bill (SB 52) into law at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School, surrounded by law enforcement officials and near a sign that read "texting & driving . . . it can wait."

"Just the fact that it'll be illegal to text and drive, I think that's going to stop our teenagers, stop citizens from texting and driving," Scott said. "We're going to monitor this."

Last week, Scott vetoed $1 million that was inserted into the state budget for a marketing campaign to explain the ban. He said Tuesday the money did not meet his criteria of being good for education or keeping the cost of living low.

"What I did is, I went through the budget, and I said, what's gonna be good for jobs, what's gonna be good for education, how do we keep our cost of living low and that's how I looked at it," Scott said.

Lawmakers have tried for five years to ban texting in Florida only to have their attempts thwarted by Republican House leaders. The logjam broke this year when new House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, signaled his support for the measure.

Polls have consistently showed most Floridians support a texting while driving ban.

Texting contributed to at least 189 crashes in Florida in 2012, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But texting-related crashes are believed to be underreported, because texting has not been illegal.

Nationwide, more than 100,000 crashes a year involve drivers who are texting, according to the National Safety Council.

It will take years to know the impact of Florida's watered-down ban.

A study by the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee conducted from 2007 to 2010 found that such a ban was not as effective in states with weaker texting laws, such as Florida's, and that the most-effective ban was outlawing cellphones entirely. The study also found that while crashes initially decreased after a ban, the decrease did not last.

Benjamin Fridman, 18, a senior at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School, said that although he thinks the law has "good intent," it will be tough to enforce.

"Students here are chattering that they aren't really deterred by the new bill," Fridman said.

Contact Rochelle Koff at rkoff@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Understanding 'secondary offense'

Florida's texting-while-driving ban, which takes effect Oct. 1, is considered a "secondary" violation. That means a driver can be punished for texting only if they are pulled over for another offense. Texting while driving is classified as a nonmoving violation — the same as having a taillight out. A first offense carries a $30 fine.

Source: Florida statutes

Different states, different rules

Forty-one states now have a law banning texting while driving. Florida's law is among the weaker laws states have passed.

WEAK: Florida, Ohio and Iowa ban texting for all drivers, but consider it a secondary offense.

MIDDLE: Georgia bans handheld devices for drivers younger than 18 and considers texting while driving a primary offense.

STRONG: California and New York are among a group of states that ban handheld devices for all drivers.

Source: National Conference of State Legislators



A ban,

but in name only?

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday signed SB 52, the "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law." The law officially prohibits texting or emailing while operating a motor vehicle, but it may be difficult to enforce.

The ban does NOT apply to motorists:

• In cars that are considered stationary (at a red light, or stuck in traffic);

• Texting or emailing to report criminal activity;

• Receiving directions or weather alerts;

• Listening to a radio service or music;

• Using talk-to-text systems such as Siri;

The ban also does not allow authorities to use phone records to prove someone was texting while driving unless there is a crash resulting in "death or personal injury."

Source: SB 52

Rick Scott signs texting-while-driving ban, but does it have teeth? 05/28/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 12:29am]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...