It may not be the strongest law, but texting while driving will be prohibited in Florida starting Oct. 1.
Gov. Rick Scott signed the watered-down ban into law on Tuesday at Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Senior High School in Miami. The ban prohibits motorists from using cellphones to text or email while operating a car in most circumstances.
The in most circumstances, however, is critical.
Drivers can continue to use phones for navigation, weather and to listen to the radio, and they can also use talk-to-text devices such as the iPhone’s Siri.
Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, can only pull a driver over if they’ve committed some other infraction — such as speeding. They also cannot require motorists to hand over their phone as proof they’ve been texting or emailing.
That means enforcing the ban, which carries a first-time fine of $30, could be difficult.
Still, supporters say it’s a critical first step that can impact the habits of Florida’s 14 million licensed drivers, akin to the seat belt legislation of the 1980s.
“What I want is for mothers and dads to be able to say 'Don’t forget, don’t text while driving, it’s is against the law,’ ” said Senate sponsor Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. “I can guarantee you none of your children is going to pull down the Florida state statutes and say, 'Boy, it’s only a second offense.’ Either we have a law or we don’t have a law.”
With Scott’s signature, Florida becomes the 40th state to ban texting while driving. Scott signed the bill into law surrounded by Florida Highway Patrol troopers and near a sign that read “texting & driving ... it can wait.”
Last week, Scott vetoed $1 million for a marketing campaign explaining the ban.
“As a father and a grandfather, texting while driving is something that concerns me when my loved ones are on the road,” Scott said.
Texting contributed to 180 crashes in Florida in 2011, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But determining the extent of the problem in the state has been difficult.
More than 100,000 crashes a year involve drivers who are texting, according to the National Safety Council.
A study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee conducted between 2007 and 2010 found that the ban was not as effective in states with weaker texting laws, and that the most-effective ban was outlawing cellphones entirely. The study also found that while crashes initially decreased after a ban, the decrease did not last.
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