Misconceptions About Texting & Driving In Florida

Florida’s primary driving offenses – misconceptions about the need for new laws 

  • Why aren't police doing more about texting while driving? | You asked, we answer - Sun Sentinel

Excerpt: One anonymous reader wrote in to ask, “Why isn't more done by our police to control texting or holding cell phones while driving? There should be very strict laws forbidding this!” 

Another reader, Alyse Weitz, asked, “Why do people cause traffic backups by being on their cell phones?” 

The short answer to both of these questions is: Police can’t do any more than they are already, and maybe drivers are using their cell phones while driving because they can get away with it. 

In Florida, texting while driving is a secondary offense. That means police can ticket you for it, but only after they’ve pulled you over for something else. 

Changing the law to make texting while driving a primary offense would take an act of the Florida Legislature. Lawmakers regularly file bills to do so and, just as regularly, they are defeated. In 2018, the bill came the closest yet to passage. A version passed the House 112-2, but the Senate version died in the Senate Appropriations Committee, its last committee stop before reaching the Senate floor for a vote. 

Opposition to strengthening Florida’s texting while driving laws makes for some odd bedfellows in the legislature. Conservative Republicans worry about government overreach, while black Democrats, who are among some of the most liberal members in the body, worry that such a law gives police another reason to pull over black drivers unnecessarily. 

Bottom Line: Ahh yes, the debate over even stronger texting while driving laws. If only it were a primary offense those who do it would stop, right? As I’ve illustrated for years, there's no need for stronger texting while driving laws for two key reasons.  

  1. Existing laws would allow law enforcement to crack down on texting while driving without any changes. 
  2. There’s no way to prove texting while driving because law enforcement isn’t allowed to view activity on your mobile device without a warrant. 

If we want to get more serious about cracking down on distracted driving, there’s already the legal ability to do so. Reckless driving is a primary traffic offense. Here’s the legal definition in Florida, "wanton disregard for property and safety of other drivers or pedestrians."  

Here’s the definition of “wanton”: 

wan·ton 

wänt(ə)n/ 

adjective 

  • 1. (of a cruel or violent action) deliberate and unprovoked. 

Texting while driving is explicitly prohibited in Florida. Therefore, if you’re distracted while using a mobile device are you not engaged in wanton (deliberate and unprovoked) behavior?  

We’re a society that’s addicted to more laws and regs to fix wrongs. In reality, all we need to do is increase enforcement of existing, laws. If reckless driving became a point of emphasis for law enforcement, it would achieve the desired effect those seeking stronger texting while driving laws would like to see.

Photo by: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

 
Brian Mudd

Brian Mudd

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