Beginning on July 1, 2019 the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law becomes a primary offense. The ban on Texting While Driving has actually been state law since 2013. It's elevation to a primary offense means the police are allowed to pull someone over and cite them for an infraction of this law by itself. Previously it was a secondary action, which means the police could only give someone a ticket for Texting While Driving if they pulled over the driver for something else first!
So what is Texting While Driving? The law prohibits someone from operating a motor vehicle while also manually typing on a phone or other electronic device for the purpose of non-verbal communication. In plain English, it's against the law to text, instant message, DM, or send e-mail while driving.
A critical focus here is that the law prohibits tapping on the phone for "nonvoice interpersonal communication," which admittedly can cover a lot of things performed on a cell phone, but not everything.
Typing information into your phone to use it's GPS or to actually (gasp!) make a phone call are generally allowed. Whether the allegations meet the law's criteria is another matter that can be argued by a skilled attorney.
Another wrinkle of the law is that, unlike for a lot of other traffic offenses, the vehicle must actually be in motion. In other words, you're allowed to text if you bring your car to a complete stop, like at a red-light.
The law can be fairly technical and as always the answer to most questions is "it depends." The law bans texting while driving but there are always exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions. If you do happen to be cited for Texting While Driving, consult with an experienced attorney for the best way to handle it.
Oh, and one last reminder: you have the right to refuse a search of your phone. It may be very difficult for the police to prove that you were actually texting while driving if they can't search your phone. This law requires the police to inform you that you have the right to refuse a search of your phone. But even if the police "forget" to inform you of that right, remember that you should politely, but firmly, decline their request to search your phone.
Below is the text of the updated Florida Statute §316.305:
316.305 Wireless communications devices; prohibition.—
(1) This section may be cited as the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law.”
(2) It is the intent of the Legislature to:
(a) Improve roadway safety for all vehicle operators, vehicle passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.
(b) Prevent crashes related to the act of text messaging while driving a motor vehicle.
(c) Reduce injuries, deaths, property damage, health care costs, health insurance rates, and automobile insurance rates related to motor vehicle crashes.
(d) Authorize law enforcement officers to stop motor vehicles and issue citations to persons who are texting while driving.
(3)(a) A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging. As used in this section, the term “wireless communications device” means any handheld device used or capable of being used in a handheld manner, that is designed or intended to receive or transmit text or character-based messages, access or store data, or connect to the Internet or any communications service as defined in s. 812.15 and that allows text communications. For the purposes of this paragraph, a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition in this paragraph.
(b) Paragraph (a) does not apply to a motor vehicle operator who is:
1. Performing official duties as an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in s.322.01, a law enforcement or fire service professional, or an emergency medical services professional.
2. Reporting an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities.
3. Receiving messages that are:
a. Related to the operation or navigation of the motor vehicle;
b. Safety-related information, including emergency, traffic, or weather alerts;
c. Data used primarily by the motor vehicle; or
d. Radio broadcasts.
4. Using a device or system for navigation purposes.
5. Conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require manual entry of multiple letters, numbers, or symbols, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function.
6. Conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require reading text messages, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function.
7. Operating an autonomous vehicle, as defined in s. 316.003, in autonomous mode.
(c) A law enforcement officer who stops a motor vehicle 130 for a violation of paragraph (a) must inform the motor vehicle operator of his or her right to decline a search of his or her wireless communications device and may not:
1. Access the wireless communications device without a warrant.
2. Confiscate the wireless communications device while awaiting issuance of a warrant to access such device.
3. Obtain consent from the motor vehicle operator to search his or her wireless communications device through coercion or other improper method. Consent to search a motor vehicle operator's wireless communications device must be voluntary and unequivocal.
(d) Only in the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury, a user’s billing records for a wireless communications device or the testimony of or written statements from appropriate authorities receiving such messages may be admissible as evidence in any proceeding to determine whether a violation of paragraph (a) has been committed.
(4)(a) Any person who violates paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a nonmoving violation as provided in chapter 318.
(b) Any person who commits a second or subsequent violation of paragraph (3)(a) within 5 years after the date of a prior conviction for a violation of paragraph (3)(a) commits a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.
(5) When a law enforcement officer issues a citation for a violation of this section, the law enforcement officer must record the race and ethnicity of the violator. All law enforcement agencies must maintain such information and report the information to the department in a form and manner determined by the department. Beginning February 1, 2020, the department shall annually report the data collected under this subsection to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The data collected must be reported at least by statewide totals for local law enforcement agencies, state law enforcement agencies, and state university law enforcement agencies. The statewide total for local law enforcement agencies shall combine the data for the county sheriffs and the municipal law enforcement agencies.