Florida drivers can now get ticketed for using phones in school, construction zones

Grace period ended Jan. 1

The warning period has ended for Florida's new distracted driving law.

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – As people headed back to work after the new year, construction was also underway on I-4, meaning any drivers on their phone in the active construction zones could get a ticket.

Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Caleb Barton took News 6 along Thursday as the enforcement of the last portion of the state’s new distracted driving law went into effect. Starting Jan. 1, drivers can now be ticketed for simply holding their phones in a school or active construction zones.

“Now when you are going through a school zone, you can no longer be on a device. You got be hands-free,” Barton said. “You can’t be holding it, you can’t be looking at it, (you) got to be completely hands-free.”

This is the last portion of Florida’s new distracted driving law to go into effect.

After a major “Driving Change” push from News 6, the law began July 1, where law enforcement could begin ticketing drivers for texting while driving. Some law enforcement agencies observed a grace period until 2020 and did not issue citations but gave drivers warnings.

On Oct. 1, the second part of the law, making it illegal to handle a phone in school or construction zones, went into effect. However, since it was a new law drivers needed to get used to, there was a grace period -- until now.

“Most of them are unfamiliar with the law,” Barton said. “A lot of people don’t know about it, so it’s a good time to inform them and advise them how it works.”

Now that the full distracted driving law is operational here’s how it works: A person can not be on the phone at all in school or active construction zones. An active construction zone means workers are present.

If cited, the first offense will be $30 plus court fees. It doubles to $60 plus court fees and three points on your license for the second offense.

News 6 was with Barton when he spotted a woman with the phone up to her ear in an active construction zone on I-4 westbound Thursday. She had no idea she could now get a ticket.

“(He) stopped me because I was on my phone in a construction site and I didn’t know about the new law. I know about the school zones but I didn’t know about the construction zones,” Marilene Auge said. “I’m not going to use my cell phone anymore at all around the construction site.”

Because Ague was upfront, Barton gave her warning, hoping it serves as a warning for all drivers.

“It’s not worth the risk, definitely not," he said.

Since July 1, more than 1,000 drivers have been stopped for texting while driving or using their phones in hands-free zones, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, resulting in 949 warnings and 50 tickets.