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No texting while driving law: What are the exceptions?

Dr. Delay explores the “what-ifs” that come along with enforcing the new ban.
As of Jan. 1, texting while driving is a primary offense, and the Florida Highway Patrol will join other law enforcement agencies in writing ticket. But does that include dialing *347 or reporting amber or silver alerts? [STAR TRIBUNE  |  baona/Star Tribune/TNS]
As of Jan. 1, texting while driving is a primary offense, and the Florida Highway Patrol will join other law enforcement agencies in writing ticket. But does that include dialing *347 or reporting amber or silver alerts? [STAR TRIBUNE | baona/Star Tribune/TNS]
Published Jan. 6
Updated Jan. 6

The New Year has arrived, so drivers can be pulled over for texting while driving.

Florida’s ban on texting while driving first went into effect as a secondary offense. That meant that motorists could only be cited for texting if they were stopped for other reasons, such as speeding.

But on July 1, it became a primary offense.

Now, officials are fully enforcing the law, so queue up the what-ifs.

Related: New Florida laws coming Wednesday, including driving while texting enforcement

A colleague brought to the Doc’s attention an interesting point:

“How can they tell whether you’re texting or dialing a phone number?” asked Roger Fischer, a Tampa Bay Times copy editor.

Truth is, they can’t.

Also, consider this:

If you’re one of those good Samaritans who responds to amber alerts, silver alerts, or dials *347 to notify the Florida Highway Patrol of traffic congestion or drunk drivers and other suspicious activity, couldn’t that be mistaken for texting while driving?

Of course.

Which explains why there are exceptions outlined in Florida statute 316.305, the wireless communications devices prohibition statute.

“The statute does not prohibit reporting emergencies or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities,” said Lt. Derrick Rahming with the Florida Highway Patrol.

This also includes someone who is receiving messages that are safety-related information, including emergency, traffic or weather alerts.

Other exceptions apply when drivers are using a device or system for navigation purposes or receiving messages that are radio broadcasts or related to the operation or navigation of their vehicle.

At this point, we’ve had six months to learn all about the new law. In case you’re still not caught up or have more questions, see the full statutes for more information.

If it were up to the Doc, I’d say don’t risk it using the phone, unless you can do so hands-free. You’re probably better off pulling over to dial *347 (FHP) and report suspicious activity, if you feel so inclined.

TRAFFIC UPDATES AND CLOSURES:

Hernando County:

  • Lane closures resume 24 hours per day through Saturday for the U.S. 98 new bridge construction of Suncoast Parkway 2, a half-mile on each side of Suncoast Parkway (State Road 589)
  • Lane closures resume through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. for SR 50 (Cortez Boulevard) widening from Windmere Road/Bronson Boulevard to U.S. 301

Hillsborough County:

  • Lane closures through Friday from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. for Interstate 275 operational improvements from west of State Road 60 (Exit 39) to Lois Avenue (Exit 40B)
  • Nightly lane closures through Friday from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for I-75 repaving from Manatee County Line to north of CR 672 (Big Bend Road)
  • Intermittent lane closures through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. for U.S. 41 repaving from Bullfrog Creek to Denver Street
  • Nebraska Avenue drainage and roadway improvements just south of Hillsborough Avenue cause 24-hour lane closures (northbound only) through Saturday *Closures associated with the Hillsborough Avenue (U.S. 92) repaving project
  • Eastbound-only lane closures 24 hours per day starting Monday, 7 p.m. through 6 a.m. Friday for SR 60 (Kennedy Boulevard) traffic signal upgrades at Brevard Avenue
  • Lane closures through Friday from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. on SR 60 under I-275
  • Lane closures for SR 582 (Fowler Avenue) median improvements at 12th Street through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Lane closures with flagging operations through Saturday for County Road 580 (Sam Allen Road) widening from east of Paul Buchman Highway (SR 39A) to Park Road from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Lane closures continue through Friday from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. on CR 587 (West Shore Boulevard) at I-275
  • 24-hour lane closures through Saturday for CR 672 (Big Bend Road) bridge replacement from Dickman Road to Wyandotte Road

Pinellas County:

  • Gateway Expressway (new tolled roadway system) updates
    • Lane closures through Saturday from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Interstate 275 from south of Gandy Boulevard (Exit 28) to Fourth Street N (Exit 32) and I-275 northbound Exit 30 ramp to westbound SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) and westbound 118th Avenue (CR 296)
    • Intermittent lane closures through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Alt. U.S. 19 (Myrtle Avenue) repaving from State Road 60 (Chestnut Street) to Mohawk Street
    • Lane closures continue through Saturday from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. on U.S. 19 Frontage Roads from 110th Avenue N to 126th Avenue N, SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) from SR 688 (Ulmerton Road) to 49th Street N, SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) entrance ramp to the Bayside Bridge, and SR 686 (Roosevelt Boulevard) from 28th Street N to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N
  • SR 688, SR 586 and SR 580 intersection lighting improvements cause lane closures through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. at various locations:
    • SR 688 (Ulmerton Road) between Hamlin Boulevard in Largo and Feather Sound Drive in St. Petersburg
    • SR 586 (Curlew Road) between Alt 19/Bayshore in Dunedin and Tampa Road in Oldsmar
  • Intermittent lane closures with flagging operations through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for SR 699 (Gulf Boulevard) drainage improvements from Walsingham Road to Fourth Avenue North

Monique Welch is a staff writer at the Tampa Bay Times, and the voice behind Dr. Delay. Send your traffic concerns, questions, and pictures of roadway troubles you spot in your travels around the Tampa Bay area to docdelay@tampabay.com. Follow @AskDrDelay.

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