Senate Bill 52 targets distracted drivers

By Matt Keene |
Photo by Sarah Williamson

20130922-_SAW6698Starting October 1, Florida drivers can breathe a sigh of relief as Senate Bill 52 goes into effect.

Approved earlier this year, the soon-to-be law will prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle while texting. SB 52 is called the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law” and will target non-voice interpersonal communication. In other words: typing or entering letters, numbers, symbols, other text and sending or reading data while driving.

According to the US Department of Transportation, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. That is enough time to drive the entire length of a football field at 45 mph, without once looking up.

Sgt. Catherine Payne of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office advises drivers to “pay attention to the road. Put your phone down. If you must, put it on silent so you don’t have that text alert coming in that makes you feel compelled to answer it right away.”

SB 52, however, is not an end-all solution to distracted driving. The bill will be enforceable only as a secondary offense, meaning police officers will be unable to pull over a distracted driver for texting while driving and can only issue a ticket if the driver has been pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding.

“What that means to us as law enforcement officers is that we have to prove that the individual was actually texting while driving,” says Sgt. Payne. “Not necessarily that we see somebody driving down the road texting on their phone–that’s not probable cause for a traffic stop. However, if they’re speeding and we can see that they’re texting as well, then we can certainly do the traffic stop based on their speed. Or maybe they’re weaving and then we prove at that point that they’re texting and driving.”

A driver’s first violation of the law will consist of a $30 fine, plus court costs. A second violation within five years of the first will be punishable by a $60 fine, plus court costs. When the law goes into effect, 41 states will have bans on text messaging for drivers.

The bill received bi-partisan support, passing the Senate 39-1 and the House, 110-6.

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