Gov. DeSantis signs texting and driving bill into law, saving 'countless lives'

Law goes into affect July 1

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist, Donovan Myrie - Investigative/Special Projects Producer

SARASOTA, Fla. - Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law Friday morning that will allow law enforcement officers to pull over drivers who are texting and driving. Florida is among the last few states to implement such a law and it's been years in the making.

The House Bill 107 signing ceremony happened at Sarasota High School in front of a contingent of lawmakers, who introduced the corresponding bills in the Florida House and Senate, and the students and construction workers who will be protected by the new law.

The new law not only elevates texting and driving to a primary offense, but also makes it illegal for drivers to hold a cellphone in either a school zone or a marked construction zone.

Though the new law allows police officers to proactively make the roads safer, the fines for texting and driving stay the same. A first offense will have a $30 fine and a second offense will have a $60 fine.

However, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, those fines are before any given county adds its fees and those can vary by county.

"In Orange County, the fine for a non-moving violation, after court costs and fees is $114. That is what you will pay for a  first violation," a public information officer for the Sheriff's Office said. "If you are cited twice in a five-year time period, you will receive a moving violation, and in Orange County, after court costs, that fee is $164."

Beginning July 1, officers will be able to pull over drivers suspected of texting and driving.

News 6 has been behind the Driving Change effort ever since anchor Matt Austin was injured in a crash, involving a distracted driver.

5 things to know about Florida's texting and driving bill

Before signing the bill, DeSantis cited some of the statistics about distracted driving crashes. Florida was No. 2 in the country for distracted driver crashes, which cause 233 deaths a year. One in four crashes are caused by distracted driving.

Since 2013, lawmakers have sponsored 31 different pieces of legislation to strengthen Florida’s texting and driving law.

This session, Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, and Emily Slosberg, D- Boca Raton, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, introduced corresponding bills, that passed, sending the legislation to the governor's desk for final approval.

Toledo's bill received overwhelming bi-partisan support. "We had over 60 co-sponsors in the House," she said Friday at the signing ceremony.

Toledo, a mother of five, brought two of her daughters with her to the ceremony, saying that it was her perspective as a mother she wanted to bring to Tallahassee to protect families.

"This law is about saving lives and making our roads safer," Toledo said. "Texting and driving has become an epidemic. We've all seen it. People weaving, texting and driving."

The Tampa representative credited the families of children who were killed in distracted driving-related crashes who continued to drive to Tallahassee year after year to testify.

Stop! In the name of life. News 6 anchor Matt Austin details crash

"Their stories have inspired me to keep fighting and never give up," Toledo said.

Simpson compared the texting and driving bill to the seat belt bill during the 1980s.

"Back then we thought 'Why are we having to wear seat belts? Why is the government intruding in our lives?'" Simpson said. "Our hope is that In a few years it will be second nature so people will know not to grab their cellphones."

Law enforcement officials, including the Florida Police Chiefs Association, backed the bill. Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan applauded the legislators for passing the bill, saying it was a top priority this session for the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

"By Gov. DeSantis signing this bill today countless lives will be saved," Bevan said. "Drivers will now know to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Not only because the should but because now it’s the law."

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