JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida's amended distracted driving law went into place Monday, and texting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle in Duval County could get you a ticket of more than $100 for the first offense.
Officers statewide have the option to write tickets with fines or give warnings to people caught texting and driving until January 2020. After that, Duval County violators will be ticketed $114 for the first offense and up to $164 for any following offenses.
News4Jax rode along with a 15-year veteran police officer in Neptune Beach on Monday afternoon. It’s a small town, but there are busy roads that run through it, and police said they’ve seen their fair share of crashes related to distracted driving. It’s why they’re happy texting and driving is now a primary offense.
During the ride-along, it took just five minutes for a patrol to pull someone over for driving and using their phone.
"This one will be for texting," said Officer Robert Ashmore, a Neptune Beach police officer, as he pulled over a woman in a white sedan on Atlantic Boulevard.
Ashmore and police across the state of Florida are on the lookout, with more power to stop violators.
"From people messing around with their cellphone, dropping it -- I’ve had people run into ditches,” Ashmore said.
Statewide, citations start at $30 for the first offense and $60 for subsequent offenses, but each county has different additional court costs that are imposed.
Jacksonville attorney John Phillips pointed out that drivers do not have to hand over their phone to an officer unless they're involved in a wreck. He said drivers have the option to show their phone to the officer who pulled them over to prove they weren't texting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
One woman did just that Monday afternoon, letting the officer know her GPS was on. She did not receive a violation.
“If you get hit in the pocketbook, it does deter,” Ashmore said. “But warnings are just as important. A verbal warning or a written warning, let them know, ‘Hey this is out here for your safety.’”
On Oct. 1, the changes to the law will enact a ban on using handheld devices at all in school zones and work zones. That includes phone calls.
Ashmore stopped and ticketed two separate people for not wearing seat belts during the ride-along. He said drivers and passengers continue to violate that law, even though it's been in effect for years.