Tom Elliott of Prompt Towing works to haul away a Chevrolet Blazer wrecked in a crash on Burnt Store Road south of Punta Gorda in December 2011. The driver lost control while texting, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

NORTH PORT — Florida’s new law banning texting by drivers takes effect July 1.

Police officers say it’s overdue.

“Florida has been behind in this area,” North Port Police Sgt. Tony Donohew said recently. “Many other states have already enacted similar laws.”

Donahew is the head of North Port’s traffic patrol division. He has seen it all.

“We have gone to so many accident scenes knowing that someone was distracted,” he said. “But we can’t prove it. I’ve have yet to meet a police officer in North Port who isn’t in favor of this law.”

Officials throughout the state were pleased with the signing of the new law by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which is officially known as the Wireless Communications While Driving Law.

Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles officials praised the new law.

The agency normally works to issue driver licenses, vehicle titles and tags along with other assistance for Florida Highway Patrol.

“Using wireless communication devices while driving is one of the most dangerous driving behaviors as it takes your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road and mind off driving,” FLHSMV Executive Director Terry Rhodes said. “The Wireless Communications While Driving Law will undoubtedly make the state’s roadways safer and I applaud the governor and Legislature for their dedication to this effort.”

The agency said its education campaigns and the work of police will “enhance all of our missions to prevent crashes, reduce injuries and fatalities and improve road safety for all road users,” Rhodes said in the news release.

In North Port, Donahew said the state is asking police departments to “gently” enforce the new law for the first six months.

“They ask that we not issue tickets until January to let the public get used to the law,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing with certainty: North Port will be issuing tickets under this law.”

Motorists can still use their phones while driving, but texting will be taboo.

“And no phone use will be allowed in school zones or construction zones,” he said.

Donohew predicts that in 18 months, wrecks caused by distracted driving will drop by 60-70% in the city.

“This law is a good thing,” he said. “It is sorely needed.”


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