TAMPA, Fla. - Hillsborough Superintendent Jeff Eakins’ message rang loud and clear: “Drivers, they need to step up and put the phones down.”
Beginning Oct. 1, police will begin pulling over drivers for holding a phone while driving in school and construction zones, regardless of what they are using it for.
At a press conference in Tampa, county and state leaders explained the new law.
“This is not just texting and driving. This is actually just holding a phone,” said State Rep. Jackie Toledo.
Toledo was integral in passing Florida’s ban on texting and driving, which went into effect back in July. But police could only ticket drivers who were texting. This, the second part of the law goes a step further, and will even affect parents waiting in pick-up lines.
“On a roadway, waiting in a car line, down that street, anyone could be walking in and out of that street so phones down and eyes up,” Eakins.
Parent Lucy White knows adults have plenty of options to prevent distracted driving.
“There are hands-free ways, and I think it’s a very, very good idea,” she said. “I think this is just really going to help our students stay safe.”
But others like Lacy Welch say it’s going to be hard for those who’ve grown comfortable driving with their phone in their hand.
“I’m not texting, but I might be looking up directions, or seeing what’s going on. I’m listening to music, I don’t feel like I’m a distracted driver, but I am using my phone,” Welch said.
In Hillsborough County alone, nearly 2,000 crashes occurred in school zones across a two-year span. It’s not known how many were due to phone use, but Sheriff Chad Chronister says, this isn’t a problem they will ticket their way out of.
“We as the state of Florida have to decide that – being one of the last remaining states not to have a hands free, texting and driving bill, that enough is enough,” the sheriff said.
Law enforcement officers will issue warnings until Jan. 1, 2020. Then they’ll start writing tickets. The citations will start at $60 for first-time offenders, plus three points on their driver’s license.