47ºF

Driving Change: New Florida hands-free law begins

News 6 helps spur change in Sunshine State

photo

Drivers have been warned about Florida’s new law banning drivers from handling their phones in school and construction areas. Now, starting on Wednesday, motorists can be stopped and ticketed for using their phones in hands-free zones.

After a major “Driving Change” push from News 6, the part of the new law-- allowing law enforcement officers to pull over drivers for texting and driving -- began July 1. Prior to July, texting and driving was a secondary offense, meaning officers needed to have another reason to pull someone over.

Some law enforcement agencies observed a grace period and did not issue tickets for texting and driving until January.

In October, the hands-free portion of the law went into effect and drivers could be pulled over for using their devices in school and construction zones. However, there was a grace period before law enforcement officers began writing citations for hands-free enforcement.

Beginning, Jan. 1 drivers can be ticketed for handling their cellphones in school and construction zones, along with texting and driving.

There are exceptions to the rule. It’s OK to text if a vehicle is stopped at a red light. And motorists can use a GPS device while driving.

“As a new year begins, I am proud to give law enforcement the ability to fully enforce the Wireless Communications While Driving law,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news release sent by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Drivers can be ticketed if they aren’t using devices in a hands-free manner in designated school crossings, school zones or active work zones.

The penalty for first-time violators is $30 plus court costs. The fee doubles to $60, plus court costs and three points added to the driver’s license in school and work zones.

“Distracted driving significantly slows your reaction time and places you, your passengers, and others on the road in danger,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, director of the Florida Highway Patrol.

“It’s just going to be a learning process for everyone. I think it is a step in the right direction for the state. Anything that is going to make Florida roadways safer, we are all about," FHP Lt. Derrick Rahming said.

Truck driver Larry Heath said he hopes the law will encourage others to stay off their phones.

“You see tractor-trailer drivers and regular automobile drivers all the time just on their phones doing crazy stuff, just on their phones playing video games and watching TV all the time,” Heath said.

Marlon Taylor, of Jacksonville, said he’s sticking to hands-free technology to avoid getting a ticket.

“It’s a great way to stay vigilant and to get to where I’m going without looking down or to the side or anything like that. I can maintain my focus and be navigated to my next destination,” Taylor said.