Currently, the legal consequences of using your cell phone while driving in Florida are not very harsh compared to other states, because Florida law enforcement cannot legally pull drivers over and issue a citation for cell phone use alone. Although using your cell phone while driving is illegal in Florida, it is currently a secondary offense, which means highway patrol or city police can only issue a citation for using your cell phone when they pull you over for another reason, such as speeding or a broken taillight.
Increased cell phone use contributing to distracted driving across the nation has prompted more than 40 states to outlaw cell phone use while driving by making it a primary offense. In April 2019, Florida’s legislature passed a bill, joining other states, to make texting and driving a primary offense. Florida’s governor is likely to sign the bill in May 2019, with changes likely going into effect in July 2019.
The following guide offers information about typical physical and economic consequences of using a cell phone while driving in Florida, as well as provides an in-depth look at Florida’s recent cell phone use measure, House Bill (HB) 107. If you need immediate assistance after an accident with a driver distracted by a cell phone, contact our skilled legal team at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), for a free consultation and to learn how we can assist you.
Causing an Accident
Using a cell phone (including texting) while operating a motor vehicle falls under the broad umbrella of distracted driving. According to the most recent data from Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), distracted driving contributed to almost 270,000 accidents on Florida’s roads in 2017, including 234 fatal crashes and more than 40,000 crashes with injuries. The FLHSMV also reports that more than 3,600 crashes related to electronic device distractions occurred in 2018. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some specific insights into the extent of the problem on a national level.
Even with harsh laws that ban cell phone use while driving in many other states, almost 15 percent of all distracted driving accidents across the nation involve a cell phone. Drivers from age 20 to 29 are the biggest culprits among those who use cell phones while driving, making up 35 percent of all cell phone-related fatal crashes. As an individual ages, the likelihood that he or she uses a cell phone in the car drops. Comparatively, those from age 30 to 39 make up a little more than 20 percent of fatal accidents resulting from cell phones, while those from age 40 to 49 make up only 15 percent.
Injuries and Fatalities
Fortunately, the vast majority of distracted driving accidents do not result in injuries; however, when injuries do occur, they are often serious. Many times when car accidents occur, drivers see the accident coming, especially when external hazards contribute to the accident. For example, a driver might slide on wet roads, come upon a jaywalker, or notice a vehicle in front of them that suddenly turns or stops. When drivers are engaging with their cell phones, they may not immediately see these hazards, if they see them at all. Drivers who see the hazards can try to stop or maneuver to avoid an accident; those who don’t see the hazards don’t make these maneuvers, often resulting in accidents occurring at high speeds.
Drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and others on the road can be injured at low speed, but collisions occurring at faster speeds are more likely to result in catastrophic injuries or fatalities. In addition to death, serious car accidents can result in a myriad of severe injuries, ranging from whiplash and traumatic brain injuries to broken bones, back and spinal cord injuries, and the loss of limbs. Car accidents can also result in emotional injury, regardless of fault. Those injured must deal with the mental struggle of recovery and possibly even the emotional challenges involved with living with a permanent injury. Those who cause the injury must live with the guilt of ending or significantly altering another person’s life.
Traffic Citations and Fines
Florida currently only prohibits texting and driving; talking on one’s cell phone while driving is not illegal. The Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law, which passed in 2013, states that a driver cannot operate a motor vehicle while “manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device.” The law goes on to specify that drivers cannot send or read data related to texting, email, or instant messaging. The current law provides for exceptions in the following situations:
- Drivers can text when they are stopped at a traffic light or stuck in traffic.
- Drivers can text to report an emergency and report criminal activity to the police.
- Drivers can read texts related to driving, such as emergency, traffic, and weather information and alerts.
- Drivers can use a wireless device, including entering information into their phone, to navigate.
As previously mentioned, law enforcement cannot pull over a vehicle solely because the driver is using his or her phone, because texting is only a secondary offense. A driver’s first citation for texting and driving includes a $30 fine. The second and subsequent offenses cost drivers $60. Texting in a school zone increases the fines, and those who cause serious accidents might be issued a reckless driving citation for texting.
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Higher Insurance Premiums
At some point after a driver receives a citation for texting and driving, his or her insurance company will find out about the ticket. Insurance premiums vary based on a person’s driving history and the way the insurance company calculates risk. Often times, first offenses won’t increase premiums that much, if at all. Yet, texting and driving is a serious offense, even though Florida’s laws are not harsh. Although each policy is different, CarInsurance.com estimates a driver’s policy premiums will increase by about 27 percent, or almost $650 per year, after a texting and driving ticket. CarInsurance.com gathered rates from up to six major carriers from 10 ZIP codes in each state to calculate the insurance increase after one texting and driving citation.
The CarInsurance.com data only examines rates after one violation. Drivers who get two or more violations can expect a larger increase. More than two violations might result in a non-renewal or cancellation. When law enforcement issues a texting and driving ticket in conjunction with severe accident and injury, it’s likely to cause even higher premiums or cancellation if the insurance company has to pay out a large claim because of a negligent policyholder. The same applies when an accident causes a fatality; the at-fault driver’s insurance will most likely be involved in a wrongful death claim, resulting in a policy cancellation if they must pay a large claim.
Like other states, Florida’s driver licenses operate on a point system. Each infraction carries a point value. When law enforcement issues a ticket to a driver, the points for a particular ticket are added to that person’s license if he or she pays the ticket without contesting the ticket in court. Points are calculated on the date a driver received the ticket. The following will result in suspension:
- 12 points within one year lead to a 30-day suspension.
- 18 points within 18 months lead to a 90-day suspension.
- 24-points within 26 months lead to a one-year suspension.
Currently, a driver’s first offense of texting and driving does not carry any points against a license; however, a second offense within five years comes with a three-point penalty. The same applies if the violation occurs in a school zone; the law penalizes these violations more harshly because of the presence of children. If the violation occurs in a school zone, law enforcement will add two additional points to the primary offense for which a driver was pulled over. Regardless of whether a driver has been cited for texting and driving, all crashes involving texting and driving automatically carry a six-point penalty.
By itself, a texting and driving citation will not currently result in a suspension. Yet, with the right conditions, an accident, or previous citations, those who text and drive may incur up to a 30-day suspension of driving privileges.
We’ve already discussed some of the economic consequences of using a cell phone while driving in Florida in relation to fines and higher insurance premiums, but those costs pale in comparison to the potential aftermath of a personal injury lawsuit if an accident occurs. Florida is a no-fault insurance state, so each driver involved in an accident files a claim under his or her required personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability (PDL) coverage. This does not let at-fault drivers off the hook.
Florida PIP coverage only pays for 80 percent of medical expenses and 60 percent of lost wages after an accident, and it does not cover non-economic costs such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or scarring and disfigurement. Once an injury victim has exceeded PIP limits, it’s likely that he or she will sue the at-fault driver. Severe accidents resulting in permanent disability and lifelong medical care can easily exceed the at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage, leaving them open to personal loss. If a court rules in favor of a plaintiff, the defendant will be liable for any award not covered by insurance. This can result in wage garnishment and other financial agreements to ensure that the defendant pays all monies owed.
Commercial Drivers and Cell Phone Use
Those who hold commercial drivers’ licenses in Florida must follow stricter laws than a driver with an ordinary license. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) governs safety standards and rules for all commercial vehicle drivers in the nation, and it has implemented a strict no-use policy in regards to cell phones. The FMCSA defines using a cell phone as:
- Using at least one hand to make a call with a phone
- Dialing by pressing more than one button
- Leaving the seated driving position while driving to reach for a phone
- Texting, emailing, instant messaging, or retrieving data from any of these actions
Commercial vehicle drivers who use a hand-held mobile phone while driving might get disqualified by the FMCSA. Additionally, drivers and employers might have to pay fines of up to $2,750 and $11,000, respectively. Continued violations might result in the permanent suspension of a commercial driver’s license in Florida.
Changes With Florida’s New Texting and Driving Law
Florida’s new texting and driving bill is expected to go into effect sometime during 2019. The primary difference between the current law and the one likely to be signed by the governor is how it changes cell phone use while driving from a secondary traffic offense to a primary offense. This means law enforcement can pull a driver over for cell phone use and issue a ticket without needing another reason. Some other important highlights of the new law include:
- Drivers may still use their phone when stationary. This includes while at traffic lights and stuck in traffic.
- Law enforcement must record the ethnicity of all drivers who receive tickets to ensure that specific groups aren’t being targeted.
- A police officer cannot search a motorist’s phone without a warrant, unless an accident occurs involving injury or a fatality.
- Drivers must be hands-free in work zones and school zones.
- The law does not apply to people operating self-driving cars.
Contact a Florida Car Accident Attorney Today
If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car accident because another driver was using a cell phone, Florida law entitles you to sue for damages after you have exceeded your personal injury protection (PIP) coverage limits. Our experienced car accident attorneys can help you fight to recover compensation for the full cost of your injuries, so you can focus on healing and recovery.
Call Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation and to discuss your case with a member of our legal team. Under Florida law, you have two years to take legal action after a wrongful death and four years in personal injury cases. We proudly serve clients from our offices across both Florida coasts.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765