Tougher tickets: Law enforcement: ‘Put it down, focus on driving’

Motorists can now be ticketed if law enforcement officers spot them holding their cell phones in school zones, school crosswalks and active construction zones.

On Tuesday, the second part of Florida’s texting-and-driving ban went into effect, making it illegal to even hold your cell phone while driving through a school zone, school crosswalk or “active” construction area.

Law enforcement officers can now pull over and ticket drivers for the infraction. It’s considered a moving violation and will cost $166 in Osceola and Orange counties and three points against your driver’s license.

Motorists can legally still answer their phone while driving but only with a hands-free or Bluetooth device. And a construction zone is considered “active” when construction personnel is present or are operating equipment on the road or immediately adjacent to the work zone area, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

The department partnered with the Florida Department of Transportation and law enforcement agencies across Florida to educate residents on the changes with the Put It Down: Focus on Driving campaign.

The department breaks down distracted driving into three categories: visual, manual and cognitive.

“Texting requires all three types of distraction, making it one of the most dangerous of distracted driving behaviors,” according to the campaign’s website. “When a driver is not focused on the road, it limits their ability to come to a stop and avoid a crash.”

The first part of the law took effect July 1, and made texting while driving a “primary” offense, meaning law enforcement can pull over drivers for texting behind the wheel in any location, not just in school and construction zones.

Before that, texting while driving was considered a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists could only be cited for texting while driving if they were pulled over for other reasons.

The first ticket for texting while driving would be considered a non-moving violation and would cost $116. The second ticket would be considered a moving violation and would cost $166 and three points against your driver’s license.

It could cost you more in automotive insurance too. Data compiled by The Zebra, an auto insurance comparison website, shows that a first ticket in Florida for a distracted driving/cell phone violation would boost your insurance rate by 25 percent. See the full insurance rate report at: https://www.thezebra.com/florida-car-insurance/#ticket-cost

There are loopholes in the law, however.

For example, a driver can look at their phone while reading an email or have the phone in their hand while using the GPS, according to the Kissimmee Police Department. A driver can also text while stopped at a traffic light, although they could be cited for impeding the flow of traffic if they are required to be in motion and are distracted by their phone, KPD officials said.

But Florida lawmakers could close those loopholes with even tougher restrictions.

State Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, on Monday, filed a bill for the 2020 legislative session that would make it illegal for people to operate vehicles while “manually holding or otherwise touching a wireless communications device.”

Slosberg, whose twin sister died in a car accident, co-sponsored the texting-while-driving legislation during the 2019 session with Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa.