Texting and driving – an epidemic responsible for 1 in 4 car accidents – will officially be classified as a primary traffic offense in Florida starting on July 1, 2019. Prior to the passage of this new law, texting and driving was a secondary offense, meaning you could not be pulled over for it. Now, law enforcement has the power to stop and ticket solely for a texting and driving violation. This new law bans as a primary offense all forms of typing on a wireless device while driving, which includes texting, e-mailing and instant messaging. Using your cell phone to read text messages and e-mails while driving is also prohibited.
Officially codified as an amendment to Florida Statute § 316.305, the new law reads that, “A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device…” Florida now joins 44 other states in making texting and driving a primary offense. The law passed through Congress by an overwhelming majority – 108-7 in the House of Representatives and 33-5 in the Senate – before being signed into law by Governor DeSantis.
Several exceptions exist under the new “Ban on Texting While Driving Law” that permit cellular phone usage. Pursuant to the text of the bill, you can still type, send and read text messages while the vehicle is “stationary”, such as being stopped for a red light. Texting or messaging to report an emergency, criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities is allowed. One can also read messages related to the safe navigation of the motor vehicle, including emergency conditions, traffic or weather alerts.
While the new texting while driving ban stiffens the class of the crime, it also enumerates several limits for law enforcement in investigating such an offense. Law enforcement is required to inform persons of their right to refuse a search of his her or wireless communications device. The investigating office may not access the wireless communications device without a warrant or confiscate it while awaiting a warrant. The use of coercion by law enforcement in attempting to gain permission from a motor vehicle operator to search a wireless device is also expressly prohibited.
From a personal injury perspective, the new law banning texting while driving could be very powerful in pursuing justice for the injured. Pursuant to the plain language of the statute, in the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury, a user’s billing records for a wireless communication device may be admissible as evidence in “any proceeding”. Certainly, upgrading the severity of texting and driving to a primary offense strengthens the argument for punitive damages against distracted drivers who cause car crashes that injure or kill others. Punitive damages are awarded under Florida law as a punishment for intentional misconduct or gross negligence. Before seeking punitive damages from a jury, an injured party must make a proffer before the court that sufficient evidence exists to warrant such damages.
The statistics on the causal relationship between cell phone use and car accidents are staggering. Studies have shown that people who text and drive are eight times more likely to get into car crashes. In Florida, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported that in 2018, more than 51,000 car crashes involved distracted drivers. Texting while driving is especially problematic for teenagers; 9% of all teen motor vehicle crash deaths are estimated to be caused by distracted driving.
Car crashes caused by distracted driving is a problem that we all have the power to end. As a commitment to safety for you and your family, pledge not to text and drive. Many companies, including Apple and AT&T, have applications that stop notifications from being received while you are behind the wheel. These apps will send an auto-response on your behalf informing the sender that you are driving and that you will get in touch soon.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured due to a distracted driver, The Grife Law Firm stands ready to pursue justice on your behalf. Our Boca Raton car accident law firm has extensive experience in issuing subpoenas and investigating texting while driving. We will aggressively pursue all means necessary under the law to secure the financial compensation that you deserve. Call us now for a free consultation – 561.998.0770.