OUR POSITION: Difficulties enforcing a new texting-while-driving law should not be an excuse to look the other way.
We’re not buying the argument that Florida’s new texting-while-driving law is too difficult to enforce, so why bother.
Sure, law officers like Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight make a good point about the difficulties handing out tickets to drivers under the law as it is written. But the law passed for good reason and the problems with it do not override the dangers of texting while driving.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 107 into law, it moved the texting while driving offense from a secondary one to a primary offense. That means any law officer can pull you over if they see you fiddling with your phone while driving.
There are provisions in the law, however, that can get a driver off the hook. If the driver can prove they were using the phone for navigational purposes, receiving safety-related information or conducting communication that does not require manual entry of multiple numbers, letters or symbols, they’re free to go.
Receiving navigational information should not require more than a couple of touches to keys on the phone. And what is safety-related information? Notice of a tornado on the way?
The biggest problem is, drivers are not required to hand over their phone if asked. There is hardly any way to check their phone to confirm they were doing any of the three exercises that make their actions exempt. We believe that was a mistake by lawmakers who drew up the new restrictions.
Knight is not wrong when he concludes this law will be extremely difficult to enforce. He said his deputies will only pull someone over when they are “100 percent confident” the driver is breaking the law.
Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office took a similar stand on the new law.
CCSO spokesperson Katie Heck told the Sun that “as with any new traffic law, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office always introduces it to the community through education. This will be through social media, news and community meetings we already attend (such as neighborhood watch).
“Additionally, warnings will first be issued in lieu of citations to education drivers who are observed in violation.”
Heck said there won’t necessarily be a search of the phone—that step will be up to deputies involved.
Punta Gorda police will “enforce this law (as they do) any other traffic laws.” But they do not have any plan in place “at this time.” according to Lt. Dylan Renz.
North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor said the city is “looking for compliance, not to give people a hard time... We’re sure there will be some bumps along the way as far as how the law is interpreted and enforced.”
DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office is putting together a training bulletin for its deputies and will be doing “mainly” educational stops until January when its deputies will begin issuing citations.
We believe even a warning will send a message to drivers. How often have you received a warning for speeding and, for at least the foreseeable future, slowed down?
Texting while driving can be a killer. We implore local police to use this tool against distracted driving to the full extent of the law.