Texting while driving law in effect, tickets may not come until 2020

Published: Jul. 1, 2019 at 5:31 PM EDT
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

July 1, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Monday was the first day drivers in the state could be pulled over and ticketed for texting while driving alone, but the Florida Highway Patrol says its officers will focus on educating the public on the new law.

That means there’s a good chance those caught won’t receive the $30 ticket that comes with the offense.

“Really what we want to do is express how important it is that they are putting that phone down, that they're taking this new law to heart and that they're changing their behavior on the road way,” said Captain Thomas Pikul with FHP.

FHP will primarily be handing out warnings until the start of 2020.

FHP isn’t completely taking its officers ability to write tickets for texting while driving off the table.

The agency says in dangerous situations and incidents involving crashes tickets will be written.

Amy Mercer with the Florida Police Chief’s Association said many local law enforcement agencies are also going to take the first few months to educate the public on the dangers of texting and driving.

"It gives our police officers the opportunity to educate and speak with drivers on the dangers of distracted driving, because the last thing we want them to do is learn the hard way,” said Mercer.

Demetrius Branca, a long time proponent of strengthening the state’s distracted driving laws, lost his son in an accident caused by a driver who was suspected to have been driving distracted.

Branca said he's confused by the decision to delay full enforcement.

“The time for warning is over. We've known for years that this is a deadly behavior. We've know for years that it's costing people lives,” said Branca.

Safe driving advocates have also questioned how enforceable the new law will really be even when tickets start being issued.

Warrants must be obtained for police to search phones and drivers are still allowed to use their phones for GPS purposes.

Law enforcement says there are ways to distinguish texting from other phone uses, but they agree the law could be strengthened going forward.

“I think down the road we'll all be seeking hands free legislation,” said Mercer.

Starting October 1, school and work zones will be designated as hands free, but no tickets can be issued to violators until the start of 2020.