A Breakdown of the New "Anti-Texting" Law

As of today, October 1, 2013, Florida has a new law in effect. It has been dubbed the "Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law" and it starts out with "It is the intent of the legislature to[...]". This usually means there may be some wording that does not make sense or is ripe for legal challenge so when the judges who must decide the issue read the law they have some guidance as to what was meant.

The legislature intends this law to "improve roadway safety for all vehicle operators, vehicle passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users." In other words, everyone that comes in contact with a road or is in close proximity. It is also to "[p]revent crashes related to the act of text messaging while driving a motor vehicle" and "[r]educe injuries, deaths, property damage, healthcare costs, health insurance rates, and automobile insurance rates related to motor vehicle crashes." Don't hold your breath on those last parts. And finally, "[a]uthorize law enforcement officers [the probable cause] to stop motor vehicles and issue citations as a secondary offense to persons who are texting while driving." This is the real reason for this law.

The law prohibits the following behaviors - 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 device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication.
Wow. I bet most people did not know they were engaged in "nonvoice interpersonal communication," hashtag #NIC. Which means, they go on, "including but not limited to communication methods known as:
  • Texting
  • E-mailing
  • Instant messaging
Oh. Okay...

Since they said it, they have to define it. A "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. 

Really? Can someone please run for office that speaks English. Let me clear this up - Wireless Communications Device = Cell Phone.

However, if your car is stationary it is 'not being operated" and therefore you can text at stop lights (whether red or green), stop signs, side of the road, parking lots, anywhere when you are not moving.

Of course we must now exclude all the times it is okay to text. All of the above does not apply in the following situations:

If you are
  • performing official duties as an operator of an emergency vehicle, a law enforcement officer, a firefighter, or emergency medical services professional.
  • reporting an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement.
  • receiving messages that are:
    • related to the operation of your GPS navigation.
    • related to safety related information such as traffic alerts.
    • data used primarily by the motor vehicle. (??? can we get a definition here.)
    • radio broadcasts.
  • using a device or system for navigation purposes.(GPS, again?)
  • conducting "wireless interpersonal communication that does not require manual entry of multiple letters, numbers, or symbols, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function."
  • conducting "wireless interpersonal communication that does not require reading text messages, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function.
  • operating an autonomous vehicle. 
Only in the event of a crash involving the death or personal injury (read - "if someone claims to be hurt") can the police get your cell phone records and use them to prove you violated this statute. Read this as - if you are involved in an accident and someone is rubbing their neck and you had your cell-phone with you then the police will search your cell phone records. 

This is a non-criminal non-moving infraction but if committed multiple times then the court can put points on your Motor Vehicle Report. Simply put, first time is no points. After that, points.

Law enforcement cannot pull you over just because they see you texting. They have to pull you over for another infraction and only then can they cite you additionally for Texting While Driving, hashtag #TWD.

Although the fact remains that distracted driving is dangerous this law will do little for safety. Drivers are just as distracted working their GPS or trying to read those big "Silver Alert" and "15 minutes to SR 436" signs as they are texting. What this law will do is allow law enforcement the added ability to stop and search your vehicle even as a secondary offense (Hint: Cannabis users - a sniff is a search). Moreover, despite the fact you may be typing into your GPS at the time, if you are cited for this infraction it will be your word against the police officer's word in court. Guess who wins.

- is an Orlando attorney practicing criminal defense. He represents clients seeking criminal record expungements throughout the state of Florida and all traffic infractions/charges in Central Florida.

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