Florida texting and driving law goes into effect July 1

Reminder: Don’t text and drive. Beginning Monday, drivers in Florida can get in legal trouble if a law enforcement officer sees them on the road doing it.

With new state laws going into effect July 1, one of them makes texting and driving a primary offense in the state, so officers can pull drivers over and give out a fine.

In order to enforce this, “Law enforcement is left with having to prove that this person is texting at the time,” FGCU professor Dr. David Thomas said.

Critics say the penalties are weak: For a first offense, drivers will be issued a $30 citation plus court fees. For a second citation, it’s a $60 citation and court fees along with three points added to your driver’s license.

We asked Professors Thomas, a retired police officer, and Pamela Seay, an attorney, what would happen if you were to get pulled over.

“It allows the person whose using the phone to say, ‘No you may not look at my phone,’” Seay said.

But if you decide to show an officer your last few texts to prove your innocence, Seay said they couldn’t go beyond that. It would stay private.

“Say you show something in your trunk, and they see something else in your trunk, they can look at that,” Seay said. “It’s not the same with your phone.”

Thomas set the record straight and told us texting at stoplights, navigating a GPS or reading emergency alerts like a weather warning while behind the wheel of a vehicle is legal in the state. Without looking at your phone, it’s tough for officers to know the difference between that and texting.

“I don’t know how you’d prove it,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be almost impossible unless that officer pulls up and is literally looking over and can see you punching those keys.”

But until 2020, officers are issuing warnings rather than citations and license points.

“It’s actually a good educational process and allows them to collect data,” Thomas said.

This is data Thomas said may end up broadening the law to look more like the one taking effect in October — no handheld wireless communication devices at all in school construction zones.

MORE: Full list of Florida laws taking effect July 1

Reporter:Anika Henanger
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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