By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
September 19, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- In less than two weeks, the second part of the state’s new texting and driving law will kick in, making school zones a hands free area.
Similar to the initial texting ban, there will be a buffer period as police issue warnings, not tickets, to offenders.
Since Florida’s new texting while driving law allowing officers to pull distracted drivers over for texting took effect on July 1, only 542 tickets have been written.
But the sponsor of the legislation, Representative Jackie Toledo, says the slow rollout was by design.
“We did give them discretion to either ticket or not ticket and educate and warn,” said Toledo.
Lieutenant Derrick Rahming with the Florida Highway Patrol said the agency's intent is to give drivers warnings until the start of the new year.
“To educate the person, not just to give them a fine or anything like that, but they want to make sure that they're educated and they understand what the law actually is,” said Rahming.
Now, starting on October 1, a second portion of the law kicks in.
It makes all school and active construction zones completely hands free.
Penalties for the hands free portion of the law begin on January 1st.
Offenders can face a $60 fine and three points added to their license.
It’s a harsher penalty than the $30 dollars for texting while driving.
“Because there are children around in those areas. There are active workers and construction workers. So really the areas that are most vulnerable,” said Toledo.
Some like Demetrius Branca, who’s son was killed by a distracted driver, believe the new law is only a first step towards a completely hands free law.
“Making the school zones hands free is a great step. Making the work zones hands free is a great step, but we all deserve hands free,” said Branca.
Lawmakers don’t expect fully hands free legislation to get serious consideration until 2021.
Toledo said it will give them time to examine how effective the current law is at curbing auto accidents.
In addition to the 542 texting tickets, the Florida Highway Patrol has issued 438 warnings.
The agency expects the number of tickets to increase significantly when full enforcement takes effect January 1.