Distracted Driving Legislative Updates In Texas, California, And Florida

Distracted driving is a huge problem nationally, especially with increased cell phone usage. Fatalities and injuries have grown as a result of distracted driving while behind the wheel. Drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident if they text while driving. Texting while driving is hazardous. It takes your eyes off the roads and your hands off the steering wheels. And worse, your mind turns off from the vital task of focusing on the road.

Many states are frequently engaged in battles over new legislation meant to impact distracted drivers. Let’s look at the legal updates regarding defensive driving in Texas, California, and Florida. 

All three states have passed distracted driving legislation that is in effect or is seeking to pass new legislation that changes their current distracted driving regulations.

Texas Legislature Updates

The 85th Texas Legislature approved the distracted driving bill, so using your phone while driving is now illegal in all Texas cities, from Arlington to San Antonio. This law is not to create a disruption or nuisance but to serve as a valuable, life-saving measure to Texas adult drivers and teen drivers. Texas has been far behind over 30 other states when it comes to passing a distracted driving law. 

A Texas distracted driving law is a welcome help to address road and traffic fatalities. Over 3,000 people were severely injured or lost their lives due to distracted driving, at the hand of 100,000 statewide accidents.

State Representative Tom Craddick has approached his fourth session attempting to ban drivers from using their smartphones. The bill was previously voted and passed but vetoed while making its way to the governor’s chair. The main hang-up is that drivers are sacrificing privacy rights as a result. Opponents of the bill are also concerned about how a police officer will know that a driver is using his phone when one of the legislation provisions states that police officers cannot take and inspect the phone in question. 

However, after a lengthy debate,  the 85th Legislature session proved to be tougher and has successfully passed the distracted driver legislation. 

Distracted driving is a misdemeanor offense for a fine ranging from $25 to $99 and will penalize repeat offenders with a $200 fine. Points, however, will not be added to their driving record. The legislation is also clear on double jeopardy, where you can’t be fined twice if you violate the law under the same local ordinance. 

Talking on the phone while driving is not a violation if you are on a hands-free device. Calling or texting for emergency help or reporting illegal activity while driving is also not a violation.

California Legislature Updates

California is one of the states with up-to-date legislation when it comes to traffic laws and safety. In 2020, Assembly Bill (AB) 47 updated the state’s existing distracted driving laws.

Texting is already forbidden, and the law prohibits drivers from using smartphones for other purposes while behind the wheel unless they’re in hands-free mode, which means phones cannot be used to access apps while driving, such as maps or your camera. The use of a hands-free device was already required when talking on the phone. You can slide or push a button to answer a call, only if it’s mounted on the dashboard.

The law seeks to prevent drivers from using their phones to take photos or stream video while behind the wheel. The new law does not impact manufacturer-installed systems that are a part of the vehicle’s operating system.

Assembly Bill 47 has the exact citation for road and traffic violations. However, beginning July 1, 2021, road and traffic violators will face a more stringent penalty for using handheld devices while driving. The previous law states that a driver will not be issued a point on their record for violating hands-free device laws. Now, however, violators will be given a point on their driver’s license if they violate the said law for a second time within 36 months of violating the same offense. 

Assemblymember Tom Daly drafted this bill to curb Californians’ unsafe driving habits and prevent the state’s rising number of traffic fatalities. The Golden State passed restrictions on cellphone use while driving back in 2006 before smartphones were prevalent. This is in stark contrast to Texas and Florida, which are not trendsetters for distracted driving legislation.

Florida Legislature Updates

Florida currently has a law against distracted driving. However, it is in some regards a “law in name only.” The law, as previously written, considered distracted driving a secondary offense. This means that law enforcement officers cannot pull a driver over for texting and driving. Instead, they must witness a driver committing another infraction, pull them over for that, and then can add the texting and driving offense onto the citation.

State Representative Richard Stark has proposed legislation that would allow law enforcement officers to pull drivers over for distracted driving as a primary offense. Stark acknowledges that getting the bill passed could be difficult, as publicly supporting an issue is not the same as supporting it legislatively. Like Texas, opposition stems from the notion that a distracted driving law will remove a driver’s freedoms. 

However, Florida is unique in that they are also facing opposition from lawmakers concerned that making distracted driving a primary offense could make it easier for law enforcement to pull drivers over without a valid reason. Like Texas, Florida has been slow in responding to distracted driving issues. 

Florida introduced new and stricter texting while driving laws in 2020. With this new law, police officers are now allowed to stop drivers and cite them for texting while driving without violating other traffic laws. You can still use your phone behind the wheel on hand-free and GPS-enabled devices. Texting is also allowed if the vehicle is not in motion, including in parking spaces, red lights, or non-moving traffic. Texting while driving in work and school zones are illegal except for immediate emergencies.

YOU Can Make A Difference

Change can be made at minor levels and move its way to the top. Much like how sweeping legislation at the state level can impact national legislation, sweeping legislation at the local level can influence state legislation. If you strongly feel the need for change regarding distracted driving legislation in your state, contact your local representative and voice your concerns. 

Perhaps get involved with a local activist group that advocates in favor of distracted driving safety and legislation. Measures need to be taken to reduce the number of rapidly rising fatalities as a result of distracted driving.

Although legislation can be a strong deterrent for people to text and drive, it is not the end-all-be-all. You can make a difference by not texting and driving and setting an excellent example for friends and family. At the very least, not being distracted while behind the wheel can allow you to practice safe, defensive driving habits that can protect you while on the road. From Texas adult drivers to Florida teen drivers, we can all implement better defensive driving techniques into our daily driving habits. For many of us, that involves eliminating distractions while behind the wheel. Even though it may not be a serious crime in your state, the stakes are as high as ever.