ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida law enforcement officers have issued nearly 4,000 citations since the state’s texting and driving law went into effect.
The law which went into effect July 1, 2019, makes texting behind the wheel a primary offense, which means if a law enforcement officer sees a driver on their phone while operating a vehicle they can pull them over.
Florida Highway Patrol shared data on the number of citations issued through June 22, revealing 3,842 drivers have been stopped for distracted driving. The agency’s data reveals that a majority of citations were issued by local police departments.
See the chart below to see a breakdown of citations by month
|Total||FHP||City Police||Sheriff’s Office||Other|
Though the law went into effect July 2019 allowing to cite drivers, some law enforcement agencies observed a grace period and handed out warnings until January 2020. FHP records show more than 1,000 people were ticketed at the start of the year, when the hands-free portion of the law was fully in effect, barring drivers from talking on cell phones in school and work zones, unless the motorists use “hands-free” electronic devices.
Over the past year the Orange County Sheriff’s Office issued 32 warnings and only 45 tickets.
“That’s not a lot, but we’re doing a lot of warnings and information and teaching. The goal is to inform people of what the law says,” said Sergeant Buddy Hosier.
Sergeant Hosier is part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Motor Unit. He said, while they haven’t given out a lot of citations, they have pulled over a large number of drivers caught texting.
“The most popular excuse is ‘I’m just trying to find out where I’m going’ using Google Maps or a mapping application,” said Sgt. Hosier.
Hosier said it’s okay to use navigation apps, but you need to type in your destination before you hit the road, and put your phone on a mount so your hands are on the wheel.
Due to the pandemic, Hosier said there have been less drivers on the road, so it’s difficult to tell if the law is deterring people from texting and driving.
“I’d like to say yes. I’m not completely convinced at this point. I think time will tell as we come out of the COVID limitations to see what people actually do,” said Sgt. Hosier.
If stopped, a driver can volunteer to show an officer their phone and make their case if they are about to be cited, however the officer cannot ask to see the device.
The law was passed largely due to a three-year-long initiative led by News 6′s Matt Austin. Austin approached station leadership to drive change on Florida’s road after he was injured in a crash in September 2016 while driving home from work.
Watch Matt Austin sits down with Justin Warmoth on The Weekly to explain the state’s new texting and driving law and why he advocated for it.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law May 2019, adding Florida to the majority of states who consider texting while driving a primary offense.
Since the law’s enforcement, tickets issued for a first offense carry a $30 fine plus court costs, which could reach $108.16. The fine jumps to $60 and $158.18 with court costs for a second violation within five years. Note fines and court fees can vary by county.
Because of concerns, the law could lead to racial profiling, officers are required to record the race and ethnicity of every violator.
To read more about the law and the push to pass it, visit clickorlando.com/drivingchange.