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

Measure goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk

Law enforcement agencies in Central Florida say they plan to crack down on texting and driving once the new law goes into effect.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Through an initiative called Driving Change, News 6 has advocated for years for stricter texting and driving laws to make Florida roads safer.

The Florida House voted overwhelmingly Monday to send a bill to make texting and driving a primary traffic offense to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk, marking the furthest legislation of its kind has gone in the Sunshine State.

The bill makes texting and driving a primary offense, which means officers can pull you over if they catch you typing on your phone while the car is moving. It also makes it illegal to hold or use your phone in construction or school zones.

[RELATED: News 6 Driving Change timeline | News 6 anchor Matt Austin testifies for distracted driving bill | Could 2019 be the year Florida passes tougher distracted driving laws?]

Here are five things to know about the bill.

1. Florida is one of the last to do this

Florida was one of only four states left to not make texting while driving a primary offense. According to the Florida Don't Text and Drive Coalition, Florida took the first step toward banning texting while driving in 2013 and was one of the last to make it happen. Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota now are the only states in the country that treat texting and driving as a secondary offense. Missouri only restricts texting and driving to drivers under 18 and Montana has no enforcement at all. Currently there are 16 states that have enacted a total  “hands-free” law. The most recent state enacting the law was Georgia in 2018, according to the Florida Don't Text and Drive Coalition. Arizona Gov. Doug Doucy just signed a bill into law taking the state to hands-free starting in 2021.

2. One of the bills co-sponsor's twin sister died due to distracted driving

Sophomore Rep. Emily Slosberg (D-Boca Raton) dedicated her career as a Florida lawmaker to her sister, Dori.  On Feb. 23, 1996, both were involved in a deadly car crash in which five teenagers were killed. Slosberg's sister was just 14 years old when she died. "The reason I'm here is to honor her too," Representative Slosberg said after the final vote Monday. Slosberg’s father Irv Slosberg, served as a State Representative as well and was instrumental in getting Florida’s mandatory seatbelt law passed.  

[WATCH BELOW: Trooper Steve weighs in on texting and driving]

3. Lawmakers concerned about racial profiling

During the debate, lawmakers were concerned bad cops would use texting while driving as a way to single out a specific race. So in order to prevent that, additional language was added in the bill to require officers to write down the ethnicity of the person issued the citation. That data then has to be collected and sent to the state each year. Check out this excerpt from the bill:  "When a law enforcement officer issues a citation for a violation of this section, the law enforcement officer must record the race and ethnicity of the violator. All law enforcement agencies must maintain such information and report the information to the department in a form and manner determined by the department." A late addition to the bill also requires agencies to track the ethnicity of officers issuing citations.

4. You can still use Bluetooth and GPS

The law lists exceptions to when you can be on your phone, as long as it's not in a school zone or work zone where you can't use your phone at all. However, if you're not in a school zone or work zone you can still use your GPS, although lawmakers prefer if it's mounted. Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa), also a co-sponsor, said Bluetooth is also allowed, in fact recommended, hoping drivers keep their phone down completely. The law describes texting as "manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing,  and instant messaging. "

5. There will be a grace period 

A first offense is punishable by a $30 fine, with a second offense costing $60. Court costs and fees also would apply. Warnings will be given until January; after that officers can write citations. Here's the timeline of the bill: "During the period from October 1, 2019, through December 31, 2019, a law enforcement officer may stop motor vehicles to issue verbal or written warnings to persons who are in violation ... for the purposes of informing and educating.

Bonus: When the bill becomes law

Once HB 107 has been signed by the presiding officers, the bill will go to the governor. DeSantis will have seven days to sign the bill, veto the bill or let it become law without his signature.

If you’d like to email the governor in support of the bill, tell him what you think by sending him an email at GovernorRon.Desantis@eog.myflorida.com.

About the Authors:

Donovan is WKMG-TV's executive producer of digital enterprise