As you are probably aware, texting while driving will become illegal in Florida on October 1. It’s about time – 40 other states already have laws against texting and driving. Data shows that drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash while texting, and it’s one of the leading causes of major car accidents for teenage drivers.
It’s worth noting that the bill doesn’t just cover texting, though it’s still a little vague. SB52 prohibits “the operation of a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other text in a handheld wireless communication device, or sending or reading data in the device, for the purpose of non-voice interpersonal communication”.
In other words, using a tablet computer is also illegal. Sending messages via Facebook or Skype is illegal. Sending emails is illegal. Reading Web sites is illegal.
The new bill allows drivers to use voice-based systems to send and listen to messages without typing or reading, and to use phones or tablets while stopped at a red light or pulled over. It also permits some navigational information – reading maps is okay, but browsing around looking for a recommended restaurant probably isn’t.
Controversially, texting while driving is a secondary offense, so you can’t be pulled over for it unless you’re also doing something else wrong. The fines are low – only $30 for a first offense – but if you’re involved in a crash, the unlawful use of a cell phone will cost you an extra 6 points, and if you’re cited for a moving violation in a school zone, that phone will add an extra 2 points on top of the other penalties.
Make sure you’re aware of what you can and can’t legally do while you’re driving. If you have teenage kids who drive, make sure they know the law. If your phone has a vehicle mode, learn how to use it for safe, hands-free operation. It’s an extra burden for those of us who need to stay in touch with the office when we’re on the move, but the new law could prevent over 5,000 crashes in Florida every year.
Even though the law hasn’t changed yet, get into the habit of not texting and driving now. You could be saving your own life.