The giant legal loophole in Florida's soon-to-debut texting-while-driving ban
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (FOX 13) - Florida's new texting-while-driving law is set to take effect Monday, but police officers say enforcement is going to be a challenge.
A memo recently went out to St. Petersburg police officers informing them of the exceptions that allow people to use their phones while driving for safety-related messages, navigation, traffic, or weather alerts.
"There are so many exceptions where an officer, to know for sure, he must inspect your phone. And you can decline to give it to him, under the law," explained Yolanda Fernandez, spokesperson for St. Petersburg police.
If you don't turn the phone over, the traffic stop is over.
However, some suggest the new texting law provides probable cause for more traffic stops.
"If they stop him for texting, the officer detects the smell of marijuana," speculated attorney Anthony Rickman. "It allows law enforcement to engage in fishing expeditions."
There was concern in the legislature that the texting ban could be unfairly applied to certain races, so the law requires police to report the races of those cited. "But, the key word in the law is cited," said Rickman, pointing out that if the suspect is stopped for texting and not cited, but charged with another crime, his or her race wouldn't be reported.
The big test for the texting ban could be what happens on the road. The number of traffic fatalities has topped 3,000 in Florida each year since 2016, due in part officials believe, to distracted driving.
The penalty for texting and driving will be just $30 for the first offense and it's not considered a moving violation. Still, backers of the bill say it's a start as Florida follows most other states with a ban on texting while driving.