Effective July 1, 2014, the State of Florida banned texting while operating a motor vehicle on Florida’s streets. Identified as Section 316.305, Florida Statutes, the law applies when the motor vehicle is in motion and bans “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 for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging.”
It’s interesting to note that the law does not apply when your motor vehicle is stationary, so you are free to read and write texts and emails while waiting for a light to change, without exposing yourself to this nonmoving traffic infraction.
The statute specifically implies that a person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing into a cell phone or while sending or reading data for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication. As used in this section, the term “wireless communications device” means any handheld device used or capable of being used in a handheld manner, that is designed or intended to receive or transmit text or character-based messages, access or store data, or connect to the Internet or any communications service as defined in s. 812.15 and that allows text communications.”
I’ve bold-face typed the “nonvoice interpersonal communication” phrase because this law only applies to texting, emailing and the like – not to talking on a phone while driving. It does not appear to violate the statute when a driver holds a cell phone to her ear or in front of her mouth, while driving.
The statute also says it does not apply to other situations such as when ambulance crews drive and type in communications about a patient’s conditions, or to times when citizens type on their phone to report an emergency. [But, don’t we all CALL about criminal activities and emergencies?]
The statute also does not apply to receiving messages related to the operation or navigation of a motor vehicle which seems to place the operation of GPS devices outside this statute. Actually, using navigation aids are specifically authorized by the statute. You can also read data provided by your automobile, and from a radio broadcast. Interestingly enough, one exception allows you to use a cell phone application if you are reading or selecting the buttons that activate, deactivate or initiate that phone feature or function.
As of today, law enforcement officers are not authorized to issue tickets simply because a motorist is observed violating this statute. There must first be another chargeable traffic offense.
During the current Florida legislative session, a bill amending this law has been introduced. Senate Bill 76. Although a Bill does not become law until passed by both chambers of the Legislature and then signed into law by the Governor, this bill could reflect upcoming changes in the “driving while distracted law.” In its current form and if ultimately passed into law, it would become effective on October 1, 2019.
This Bill proposes to amend Section 316.305 with changes such as these:
- The law would be broadened from merely texting or emailing to likewise ban all activity that distracts drivers; and,
- An exception will be added whereby the use of hands-free devices are encouraged and could be used to get the ticket dismissed, and,
- Law enforcement would be authorized to stop drivers who are identified as being distracted from driving.
In this writer’s opinion, Senate Bill 76 has one obvious flaw because SB76 proposes the following wording:
“A person may not operate a motor vehicle when driving while distracted.” “Driving while distracted” is specifically defined in SB76, as “the inattentive operation of a motor vehicle while the vehicle is in motion. Inattentive or distracted driving conduct includes reading, writing, performing personal grooming, applying a beauty aid or similar products, interacting with pets or unsecured cargo, using a personal wireless communications device, or engaging in any other activity, conduct, task, or action that causes distraction.”
From our reading of the last, broadly stated phrase, law enforcement could reasonably interpret that a driver who’s looking for an address on a mailbox would be guilty of engaging in an activity that causes distraction. Driving while looking at your Google Maps printout (like the old-fashioned idea of looking at a map) would definitely run afoul of this very broadly worded phrase. Perhaps, every driver distraction should not be exposed to a penalty as suggested here. Certainly, leaving such determinations to law enforcement’s discretion is reasonably calculated to lead to future litigation. Regardless, changes to Florida’s Texting While Driving Ban are probably coming this spring.