Florida’s new texting and driving law is in full effect, but is it being enforced?

Last updated: 01-24-2020

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Florida’s new texting and driving law is in full effect, but is it being enforced?

Florida’s new texting and driving law is in full effect, but is it being enforced?

Florida’s new texting and driving law is in full effect, but is it being enforced? Since last July, law enforcement officers in Florida have been able to stop drivers solely for texting and driving, and as of last October they can stop you just for holding a phone in a school or construction zone. A new component went into effect on Jan. 1: No more warnings, anyone caught holding a phone behind the wheel is getting a ticket. So, months into one change, and weeks into another, WESH 2 News set out to determine whether the new laws are working. WESH 2 News rode along with Florida Highway Patrol trooper Caleb Barton as he was looking for people breaking the law holding phones while driving in school zones. It did not take long to find someone violating the law. Statewide, as of last Thursday, troopers jhad issued 178 tickets.Twenty-seven of those tickets were issued in six Central Florida counties. WESH 2 News also requested enforcement numbers from about a dozen Central Florida police departments and sheriff's offices.The Orange County Sheriff's Office issued 26 tickets for texting, from July 1, when it became a primary offense, through the last day of 2019. In that same time frame, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office issued 41 and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office issued 30. Some police departments, like Leesburg, Melbourne, and Daytona Beach issued less than 10. The city of Orlando has not issued any. WESH 2 News also looked into the hands-free law. How many written warnings or tickets were issued during the "warning period," and how many tickets were issued during the first week of the new year, once that warning period was over?So far, for many local law enforcement agencies, the answer for both was zero."I do think people are clever. They are pretty good at disguising it, which does make it hard to see. Sometimes it's hard to decipher if they're reaching for a phone or a water bottle,” Barton said. Traffic flow can also make it tougher for troopers to pull over a violator. State Rep. Emily Slosberg was one of the sponsors of the bill that made texting behind the wheel a primary offense and she has a more optimistic theory as to why there haven’t been many citations. “The state has done a really good job of getting out the message that you can be pulled over if you're texting and driving, and I think because of that awareness, I think there's been probably compelling compliance with the law,” Slosberg said. The hands-free law carries a fine that's $60 to start but can be higher with county and court fees. It can also put three points on a driver’s license. As for texting and driving, the starting fee for a first offense is $30. After the first offense, drivers will have points added to their license. “If you park in a handicapped spot the fine is $250. I mean, what message are we really sending to people driving if we're gonna give them a ticket and they go jeez it's only a $30 fine,” attorney Dan Newlin said. Newlin said his law firm is currently representing more than 4,000 texting and driving crash victims. He thinks the punishment should go beyond fines.Slosberg said there are two things that could bring lawmakers back to the table on the issue:To rethink the penalties, if they see repeat offenders among those getting ticket Or, if they hear from law enforcement that they need more resources in order to crack down.County-by-county breakdown FHP:Statewide numbers (through this past Sunday)1355 traffic stops1054 warnings199 tickets Breakdown for Central Florida, from July 31, 2019 - Dec. 31, 2019Orlandowarnings given out verbally and not trackedno texting and driving ticketsOne ticket given between Jan. 1 and Jan. 10Daytona Beach6 texting while driving tickets and warnings from July 1-Dec 31no tickets or warnings for hands freeMelbourne316.305 = Texting While Driving316.306 = Hands Free For 316.305, we issued 6 written warnings 7/1/2019 – 12/31/2019For 316.305, we issued 3 citationsFor 316.306, we did not issue any written warnings or tickets from 7/1/2019 – 12/31/2019For 316.306, we did not issue any written warnings or tickets from 1/1/2020 – 1/7/2020Sanford 43 warning4 ticketsFirst week of Jan: 3 tickets for texting, 1 for hands freeOcalaDuring the period of 07/01/2019 – 12/31/2019, OPD conducted 24 traffic stops. Only one traffic stop resulted in a Citation being issued (traffic stop 201900200093), while 23 of the stops resulted in verbal warnings.As of this time, OPD has not had any issuances of tickets or warnings in regards to Florida State Statute 316.306 ("hands free" law).Leesburg 316.305 (july 1-december 31 2019) - Texting While Driving Tickets – 2 Warnings – 1316.306 - No hands free in School or ConstructionNone for the first weekOCSO UTCs 26 (ticket for texting) CNC 21 (warnings)none for hands freeSeminole County Sheriff's Office1) The number of texting while driving tickets and warnings that law enforcement gave out between July 1-December 31 of 2019 - 412) The number of tickets and warnings given out to drivers found to be in violation of the new "hands free" law that applies to school zones and construction zones between October 1-December 31 of 2019- 173) The number of hands-free violations given out during the first week of "no more warning" enforcement (Jan 1-7)-0Volusia County Sheriff's Office we had 30 citations under the texting while driving statute from July 1 – Dec. 31. Brevard County Sheriff's Office texting while driving: 1 verbal warning, 11 written warnings, 6 ticketsMarion County Sheriff's Office three texting and driving tickets july-dec, no hands free at allOsceola County Sheriff's Office 1) The number of texting while driving tickets and warnings that law enforcement gave out between July 1-December 31 of 2019 There were 3 traffic citations and 48 warnings issued during this time frame2) The number of tickets and warnings given out to drivers found to be in violation of the new "hands free" law that applies to school zones and construction zones between October 1-December 31 of 2019 There have been no citations or warnings for this time frame3) The number of hands-free violations given out during the first week of "no more warning" enforcement (Jan 1-7) There have been no citations or warnings for this time frame

Florida’s new texting and driving law is in full effect, but is it being enforced?

Since last July, law enforcement officers in Florida have been able to stop drivers solely for texting and driving, and as of last October they can stop you just for holding a phone in a school or construction zone.

A new component went into effect on Jan. 1: No more warnings, anyone caught holding a phone behind the wheel is getting a ticket.

So, months into one change, and weeks into another, WESH 2 News set out to determine whether the new laws are working.

WESH 2 News rode along with Florida Highway Patrol trooper Caleb Barton as he was looking for people breaking the law holding phones while driving in school zones.

It did not take long to find someone violating the law.

Statewide, as of last Thursday, troopers jhad issued 178 tickets.

Twenty-seven of those tickets were issued in six Central Florida counties.

WESH 2 News also requested enforcement numbers from about a dozen Central Florida police departments and sheriff's offices.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office issued 26 tickets for texting, from July 1, when it became a primary offense, through the last day of 2019.

In that same time frame, the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office issued 41 and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office issued 30.

Some police departments, like Leesburg, Melbourne, and Daytona Beach issued less than 10. The city of Orlando has not issued any.

WESH 2 News also looked into the hands-free law.

How many written warnings or tickets were issued during the "warning period," and how many tickets were issued during the first week of the new year, once that warning period was over?

So far, for many local law enforcement agencies, the answer for both was zero.

"I do think people are clever. They are pretty good at disguising it, which does make it hard to see. Sometimes it's hard to decipher if they're reaching for a phone or a water bottle,” Barton said.

Traffic flow can also make it tougher for troopers to pull over a violator.

State Rep. Emily Slosberg was one of the sponsors of the bill that made texting behind the wheel a primary offense and she has a more optimistic theory as to why there haven’t been many citations.

“The state has done a really good job of getting out the message that you can be pulled over if you're texting and driving, and I think because of that awareness, I think there's been probably compelling compliance with the law,” Slosberg said.

The hands-free law carries a fine that's $60 to start but can be higher with county and court fees. It can also put three points on a driver’s license.

As for texting and driving, the starting fee for a first offense is $30. After the first offense, drivers will have points added to their license.

“If you park in a handicapped spot the fine is $250. I mean, what message are we really sending to people driving if we're gonna give them a ticket and they go jeez it's only a $30 fine,” attorney Dan Newlin said.

Newlin said his law firm is currently representing more than 4,000 texting and driving crash victims. He thinks the punishment should go beyond fines.

Slosberg said there are two things that could bring lawmakers back to the table on the issue:

During the period of 07/01/2019 – 12/31/2019, OPD conducted 24 traffic stops. Only one traffic stop resulted in a Citation being issued (traffic stop 201900200093), while 23 of the stops resulted in verbal warnings.

As of this time, OPD has not had any issuances of tickets or warnings in regards to Florida State Statute 316.306 ("hands free" law).

1) The number of texting while driving tickets and warnings that law enforcement gave out between July 1-December 31 of 2019 - 41

2) The number of tickets and warnings given out to drivers found to be in violation of the new "hands free" law that applies to school zones and construction zones between October 1-December 31 of 2019- 17

3) The number of hands-free violations given out during the first week of "no more warning" enforcement (Jan 1-7)-0

1) The number of texting while driving tickets and warnings that law enforcement gave out between July 1-December 31 of 2019 There were 3 traffic citations and 48 warnings issued during this time frame

2) The number of tickets and warnings given out to drivers found to be in violation of the new "hands free" law that applies to school zones and construction zones between October 1-December 31 of 2019 There have been no citations or warnings for this time frame

3) The number of hands-free violations given out during the first week of "no more warning" enforcement (Jan 1-7) There have been no citations or warnings for this time frame


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