New law would mean drivers could be pulled over for being distracted

Proposal would make texting, other distractions a primary offense in Florida

By Brittany Muller - Reporter, Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If a new bill passes, the Florida Legislature, drivers could soon face punishment for putting on makeup, petting their dog or texting while driving -- even if that's all they're doing wrong.

The “Florida Driving While Distracted Law" would make driving with any of those distractions a primary offense. The Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee approved the measure after heart-wrenching testimony from parents whose children that have been killed in accidents caused by distracted drivers.

The law would prohibit “reading, writing, performing personal grooming, applying a beauty aid or similar products, interacting with pets or unsecured cargo, using a personal wireless communications device, or engaging in any other activity, conduct, task, or action that causes distraction.”

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there were 199,597 crashes in St. Johns County in 2018 and 17,077,316 in the state. That’s why lawmakers want to push for stricter laws while driving and for distractions to prompt a citation on their own.

Senators on the Infrastructure and Security Committee propose that if the bill is passed, officers will be able to stop drivers to issue a warning for distracted driving starting Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. After that warning period, officers will be able to issue citations.

READ: Proposed 'Florida Driving While Distracted Law'

The bill does not apply to authorized emergency vehicles, when reporting an emergency to law enforcement, or safety-related information. 

Under SB 76, drivers would be able to use hands-free technology to talk on their phones.

Those who violate the law would be issued a citation for a moving violation and would have three points assessed against their driver's license.

Drivers would be able to elect to participate in a distracted driving safety program approved by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The bill does not specify a fine penalty.

The Senate bill has been unanimously approved in its first two of four committee stops. A similar House bill hasn't been heard in committee yet, but House sponsor Rep. Jackie Toledo said House Speaker Jose Oliva has promised it will get a hearing.

Georgia recently passed a similar law in July called the "Hands-Free Law." Since going into effect, state officials say they have issued thousands of citations. The fine is $150.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.