The two material possessions we heavily rely on in this day and age are our vehicles and our mobile phones. Having a motor vehicle, whether a car or a motorcycle, helps get us to where we need to be, while our cellular phones, especially our smartphones, help us connect to the rest of the world, whether it be via texting or chatting with our friends, or by getting us the latest news of what is going on around the globe.
While each of these things helps make our lives more convenient, combining the use of these two can be very dangerous. In this post, we will discuss the dangers of using your mobile phone while driving, as well as the penalties you may be subjected to if you are found guilty of doing so.
Texting and Driving Laws in Florida
Under Florida laws, texting while driving is considered an act of distracted driving. According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), distracted driving is defined as "any activity that takes your hands off the wheel (manual distraction), your eyes off the road (visual distraction), or your mind off driving (cognitive distraction)."
Texting or using your mobile phone in other ways while driving involves all of these distractions, and it can be hazardous not just to yourself but also to any passenger you may have in the vehicle with you. Not to mention those using the road with you at the same point in time.
Last year was a particularly bad year for Florida in terms of the number of accidents and crashes caused by distracted driving, or rather, those who have violated texting and driving laws contrary to Florida’s rules and regulations.
Over 56,000 distracted driving crashes occurred, with more than three-fourths of that number being caused by the driver’s lack of attentiveness behind the wheel. Of those crashes, 2,728 resulted in serious bodily injuries and 348 resulted in fatalities.
The Law and Penalties for Texting While Driving
Prohibitions on texting while driving and their prescribed penalties vary per state, but here in Florida, it is covered by Section 316 of the Florida Statutes. Section 305.3(a) provides the following:
"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 a device for the purpose of non-voice interpersonal communication, including but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, emailing, and instant messaging." 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. For the purposes of this paragraph, a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition in this paragraph. "
The same section of the statute provides for the penalties for distracted driving, stating:
"(4)(a) Any person who violates paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.
(b) Anyone who commits a second or subsequent violation of paragraph (3)(a) within 5 years of a prior conviction for a violation of paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction punishable as a moving violation under Chapter 318.
In an effort to make school and work zones safe from distracted driving and its effects, the law provides for a slightly stricter penalty, stating:
"Anyone who violates this section commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation under chapter 318, and shall have three points assessed against his or her driver's license under s. 322.27(3)(d)."7. For the first offense under this section, in lieu of the penalty specified in s. 318.18 and the assessment of points, a person who violates this section may elect to participate in a wireless communications device driving safety program approved by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Upon completion of such a program, the penalty specified in s. 318.18 and associated costs may be waived by the clerk of the court, and the assessment of points must be waived."
Protect Yourself and Others
The moment you get inside your motor vehicle, you are not only responsible for your safety but for the safety of others as well. To do that, the FLHSMV recommends the following tips:
Pullover - If you are expecting or need to send a text, park your car in a safe location and send the text from there. Assign a designated texter: If you have a passenger with you in the vehicle, you may give them access to your mobile phone so that they can be the ones to send text messages on your behalf. Avoid going on social media while driving. Nothing on social media can be as important as your safety. Avoid being distracted behind the wheel and just don't open your social media accounts while driving. Put your phone away—Some people may find it hard to avoid using their phones while driving. To ward off the temptation, try putting your phone in a hard-to-access spot such as the back seat of your car, the glove compartment, or even the trunk.
Call Your Lawyer
Were you stopped by authorities for distracted driving and issued a citation? Perhaps you would like to know if the manner in which you were pulled over was done in accordance with lawful procedure. Here at Browning Law Firm, we believe in the proper application of the law and upholding the statutory rights of every citizen. The Florida Statutes provide the following:
"(c) A law enforcement officer who stops a motor vehicle for a violation of paragraph (a) must inform the motor vehicle operator of his or her right to decline a search of his or her wireless communications device and may not:
Unlawful access to the wireless communications device.
Confiscate the wireless communications device while waiting for a warrant to access it.
Obtain the motor vehicle operator's consent to search his or her wireless communications device through coercion or other illegal means. Consent to search a motor vehicle operator’s wireless communications device must be voluntary and unequivocal.
(d) Only in the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury, a user’s billing records for a wireless communications device or the testimony of or written statements from appropriate authorities receiving such messages may be admissible as evidence in any proceeding to determine whether a violation of paragraph (a) has been committed."
Keep in mind that when you are pulled over by an officer, he is mandated by law to inform you why you are being pulled over and that you are under no obligation to allow access to your mobile device unless a warrant has been issued. The officers, likewise, are not allowed to coerce you in any way to surrender your mobile device to them for inspection.
If any of these prohibited acts were done to you, call us and we will study the details of your case and help you contest any violation in the event you are found to have violated any of the texting and driving laws in Florida.
Call us now for a free consultation and we’ll be more than happy to help.