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No-texting law now in effect

By Staff | Jul 2, 2019

Texting and driving is now a primary offense in Florida.

The new law went into effect July 1, making Florida one of the last states taking measures to combat distracted drivers.

“We feel that this law is needed and long overdue,” said Cape Coral Police Department spokesperson Master Sgt. Patrick O’Grady.

“Lawmakers clearly felt this was a needed law based on historical crash data and a need to protect the public on the state’s roadways and passed this new bill,” added CCPD spokesperson, Master Cpl. Philip Mullen. “CCPD is ready to enforce the statute and its new changes.”

Officers county and statewide will now begin pulling over drivers who keep their fingers on their phones rather than their steering wheels — though there will be a “grace” or “educational” period where operators will be given warnings. That grace period will end Jan. 1, 2020.

Hands-free use of devices will remain legal, as will simply talking on the phone holding it up to your ear — except in school and work zones.

First offense of the new law will carry a $30 non-moving traffic violation, not including additional court costs or other fees. Second and subsequent moving violations within 5 years rise to a $60 fine, not including court costs and other fees, and a moving violation carrying 3 points on your driver’s license.

“Insurance companies may take note of violations of the new law and raise your rates,” said O’Grady.

Fines and penalties in a school zone, school crossing or work zone will be greater.

No hand-free cell phone use of any kind will be tolerated in these areas.

The education period for the aforementioned school/work zones will begin Oct. 1 with citations following into the Jan. 1 date.

Offenders will face a $60 fine, not including court costs and other fees, and 3 points assessed against their license in these zones.

Previously, drivers could only be cited for texting and driving as a secondary offense. Now, it can be the single reason a driver is asked to stop by law enforcement. Officers can pull you over solely based on suspicion of drivers using their phone.

Mullen and O’Grady both said that not many drivers in Cape Coral had been written up for texting and driving.

“I would guess that the number is quite low due to the difficulty of enforcing the law as it was previously written,” Mullen said when asked how often drivers were cited for the offense.

“It hasn’t been very often that officers cited for texting and driving,” said O’Grady. “It was pretty hard to prove, but not typing on the phone makes it easier for us to stop the dangerous drivers to prevent possible accidents.”

According to AAA, drivers that text while operating their vehicle are up to eight times more likely to be involved in a crash.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported more than 52,000 crash incidents involving distracted drivers statewide in 2018, including 1,606 in Lee County, the eighth highest among Florida counties.

According to the department, the number of distracted driving crashes statewide has risen each year since 2013, when there were 39,141 incidents. In 2018, we saw over 52,000.

A chart put together by FLHSMV depicting the number of citations issued by county for distracted drivers in 2018 saw Lee County issue 101 “texting first offense” penalties, the fourth highest county total last year.

“This law provides law enforcement with the means to more effectively enforce distracted driving laws,” said Mullen. “Nothing has changed regarding what constitutes safe operation of a motor vehicle. Driving is the most hazardous every-day activity most of us engage in, and it requires your full attention at all times to keep both yourself and those around you safe from harm.”

Mullen said officers will not be asking to see driver’s phones.

Motorists may use their cell phone for navigation purposes. Drivers may also use their phones to report emergency, criminal or suspicious activity, as well as receive messages that are related to safety information, such as emergency weather or traffic alerts.

This law is the result of a bill signed in May by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj