SARASOTA (WWSB/AP) - It’s a bad habit many people have formed in the 21st century - texting and driving. But now those who insist on doing it could be looking at a new fine.
On Friday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Wireless Communication While Driving bill into law at Sarasota High School. Under current law, officers can only cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for another violation. The new law allows officers to stop motorists simply for texting alone.
The new law will also ban the use of any handheld wireless communications devices in school and construction zones.
Business owners in Downtown Sarasota said texting and driving is a major problem there and many locals agreed, adding that they see drivers doing it everywhere.
“How many times have you pulled up to an intersection, and you look to your right, [that person is] texting, you look to your left, [that person is] texting," said State Trooper Kenn Watson with the Florida Highway Patrol. "Don’t think that when that light turns green, they’re putting their phone down.”
A video from the Florida Department of Transportation proves Trooper Watson’s point.
Of more than 2,100 drivers captured on video, FDOT said more than eight percent of them were driving distracted on an interstate in South Florida.
“Most of the crashes we see are from distracted driving,” said Trooper Watson.
It’s easy to do, but some drivers said they don’t use that as an excuse.
“I’ve recently [used] the ‘Do Not Disturb’ on the iPhone which, you can set it up so immediately while you drive, you’re not getting text messages or bings,” explained Cameo Rose, who works in Downtown Sarasota. "Because I think that influences it a lot. When you get notifications, wanting to check it immediately.”
If drivers don’t fight the urge, it will cost them. Very little discussion was needed for Florida lawmakers to push this bill to the governor’s desk for final approval. He signed the bill into law on May 17.
“Studies have shown that texting while driving is one of the worst of all driving distractions and a recent study ranked Florida as the second worst state for distracted driving,” DeSantis said. “It’s my hope that by taking action to address distracted drivers today, that we will be able to make our roads safer and hopefully prevent some of these crashes that we’ve seen, injuries and, unfortunately, some of the deaths that we’ve seen.”
“We see it in law enforcement daily," said Trooper Watson. "So although there are many people who feel that this is an infringement, it is not. We simply want you to get to your destination safely.”
This bill will add Florida to the 43 other states that have made texting and driving a primary offense, meaning law enforcement won’t need any other reason to pull a driver over if they see them doing it.
“Texting and driving is an epidemic," added Trooper Watson. "It’s not something that you only hear about every other day. It’s something that you see every minute on the minute, every hour on the hour every day on the day.”
The Florida Highway Patrol said if they catch someone texting and driving in Sarasota County, the first offense would cost $30. A second offense will double the fine. Court costs and fees also would apply.
The new law will take effect on July 1, but only warnings will be given until January, when officers can begin writing citations.
The texting ban does not apply to a driver using a navigation device or system or to a driver whose vehicle is stationary.