Florida has finally joined other states in allowing police to pull over and ticket people for texting and driving. This is welcome news for safety advocates and concerned drivers, who justifiably felt that Florida has been slow to address this problem.

Existing Florida law allows law enforcement officers to write tickets for texting behind the wheel. The catch is that texting is considered a “secondary offense.” That means a texting citation can only be issued if an officer pulls a motorist over for some other reason, such as failing to stay in a traffic lane.

How Does This Change Traffic Citations?

The new law, which just passed the legislature and was signed by Governor DeSantis, will convert texting into a “primary offense.” That means officers can pull over and write tickets for texting alone. As a practical matter, it means police can enforce the texting ban before it leads to independently dangerous driving behavior like speeding.

What Finally Motivated Law Makers to Pass the New Bill?

In the past, lawmakers concerned about civil liberties have dampened enthusiasm about converting texting into a primary offense. This time was strikingly different: there were more than 60 co-sponsors of the bill in the Florida house.

In signing the new law, DeSantis pointed out that distracted driving has become an epidemic in Florida. He mentioned that in 2016, there were 50,000 crashes caused by distracted driving, resulting in 233 deaths. This is a staggering toll at a time when improvements in technology should be making vehicles safer than ever. While the strengthened law will not prevent all distracted driving accidents, there is a high likelihood that it will save many lives and reduce insurance costs over time.

Ideally, Florida would have beefed up the texting law before now. Nevertheless, we should remain thankful and say better late than never.

The new law will become effective on July 1, 2019.

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