Sarasota sheriff: Enforcing texting-and-driving law could be tricky

At face value, making texting while driving a primary offense appears to be a good idea, but Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight said the new law has its problems. 

"The cops on the street are not attorneys," said Sheriff Knight. 

He means deputies must prove drivers were actually texting and not using their GPS or answering an emergency. 

"We don’t need them on the side of the road trying to interpret the law or talk about a law to have a driver cited if they’re violating the law. Because the law, right now, is not clear to them," the sheriff said.

He said there's only one real way to tell: By looking at a driver's phone. A deputy or officer first has to ask and receive permission to look, but even if they do agree, it could be a violation of civil rights or the Fourth Amendment.

"People take their phones very seriously now. We are not going to have them asking for a phone to prove something was right or wrong during a suspicion of a traffic stop," said Sheriff Knight. 

He said his deputies will still enforce the law, but it'll be done carefully and only with 100% confidence. 

"We told them to ensure they have probable cause to stop a vehicle and issue a citation without violating people’s privacy rights," he said. 

Just like the seat belt law when it first went into effect, Knight believes it'll take time and extra steps before the law will be clear cut. 

"We want the public to be patient with this and let it evolve," he said. 

One part of the law says drivers must go completely hands-free in school and work zones. Sheriff Knight said going hands-free on every road would be a better law and much easier to enforce. 

"We just need the lawmakers to make our roads safer by making sure nobody holds a device in their hands, that they keep their hands on the steering wheel and drive," he added.