Texting while driving is now a ticketable offense

In disputed cases, says Tampa’s police chief, it could come down to the officer’s word against the driver’s.
Published July 1
Updated July 1

TAMPA — Local officials celebrated the introduction of a tougher texting while driving law Monday, but acknowledged enforcement could be a challenge.

“Let me make that clear: Today you could get a ticket,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, a co-sponsor of the bill that bumps texting while driving from a secondary offense to a primary one, allowing officers to issue citations to drivers caught with impatient fingers.

Speaking at a news conference to mark the law’s implementation, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said his officers have received no specialized training to help them enforce it. And he acknowledged that in contested cases, it could come down to the officer’s word against the driver’s.

“We’re not interested in searching people's phones,” he said.

The new law does not ban all phone use in cars. It allows drivers to use navigation apps and make phone calls while their vehicle is moving and text while the car is stopped. Starting Oct. 1, the law also prohibits any handheld use of phones in school and work zones, though only warnings will be issued until Jan. 1.

A first offense carries a $30 fine plus court fees. A second offense is $60 plus court fees and three points on the driver's record. Those caught texting within a school or work zone can get points on the first offense.

Toledo said 46 other states have adopted similar bans and seen a reduction in traffic fatalities. She hopes Florida will eventually follow those states and pass “hands-free” laws, which prohibit any handheld use of phones.

Toledo called distracted driving an “epidemic,” and something “we’ve all done.”

Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman Tamara Shamburger said the law should make it safer for students who drive or walk to school.

“Our vision in Hillsborough County Public Schools is to prepare students for life. This law contributes to that goal,” she said.

Contact Amanda Zhou at azhou@tampabay.com. Follow @amondozhou.