There's a new law going into effect this Monday on July 1st which will make texting while driving illegal.
Under current law, officers can only cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for another violation. However, the new law allows officers to stop motorists simply for texting alone. The new law will also ban the use of any handheld wireless communications devices in school and construction zones.
Although the law goes into effect on July 1st, our understanding is that only warnings will be given until January 2020 and then officers will start writing citations. A first offense will be punishable by a $30 fine, with a second costing $60. Court costs and fees also would apply and points will be added to licenses.
To help you better understand the new law, we've answered some questions you might have:
Will I be allowed to text at red lights?
Yes, but it’s not recommended. You’re technically allowed to text at a red light because your car is stopped. Now, if you’re in a school or work zone, you’re not allowed to pick up your phone at all, which also means that speak-to-text functions are not allowed.
Can I text while in traffic?
Nope. Traffic can be a major pain here in southwest Florida during season and especially rush hour on Daniels and US-41. Even if you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you’re not allowed to text. That’s because your car is ready to drive off and you should not be distracted.
How about at a stop sign? Can I text then?
Technically, you can still text at a stop sign, but how long are you going to be stopped for? You could probably argue your case if you get pulled over, but it's more trouble than it's worth. Just be safe, and keep the phone down.
What if I need to change the song on my phone?
You can still change up your road trip playlists while driving. Selecting a song is still legal, but not in hands-free zones, so make sure to pick the song you want while driving up to the pick up line at school because you won't be able to change it once you're in the hands-free zone.
Will I still be able to use my phone's GPS navigation?
Sure, but you can't be holding it in your hands. Law enforcement would prefer for any navigational systems to be mounted if you need to see the directions. It's not illegal to mount your cell phone on your windshield using those suction cup mounts (unlike other states), so you can use those if you need to. Under the law, Bluetooth is still allowed and also preferred. You just can't have the phone in your hands while it's navigating though; it's got to be mounted somewhere or set aside.
What about checking Facebook or Instagram?
Scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook (or any social media for that matter) while behind the wheel is not allowed and will be considered texting. You could whip out your phone while you’re stopped at a red light if you REALLY need to take that selfie though.
So, you're saying I'm not allowed to play games while driving?
Nope. Well, kinda. You can still technically play your game while stopped at a red light, but it's kinda pushing it.
What happens if I receive a text? Can I check my phone?
You can receive texts, but you can't send them. You won't be penalized for glancing at an incoming message. Just make sure to not spend too much time reading the message and spend more time with your eyes on the road.
Or what if someone calls me while I'm driving? Can I answer?
If the phone rings, you can pick it up. Law enforcement would rather you use Bluetooth, but you can still physically answer phone calls on your phone with no penalties unless you’re in a hands-free zone.
How is this going to be enforced? These new laws seem kinda bogus...
The enforcement on this new law is where it starts to get really leaky; there's loopholes.
The biggest loophole is that in order for law enforcement to cite you, they first have to legally prove that you were using your phone while driving. Officers can pull you over if they suspect that you're using your phone while driving and ask you to show them your phone. However—according to how it's being reported—the officer will first be required to inform you of your rights and ask you to show them your phone. If you reply, "No," then the stop ends there; you're free to go.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen how this new law will affect drivers on a daily basis, but your chances are good that even if you do get pulled over, you probably won't get a citation. Of course, the safest option is always going to be to set the phone aside and abstain from cell phone use while driving.