While we're not promoting texting and driving, or doing anything else that may take your eyes away from the road while operating a fire breathing 1-2 ton machine, it's important for all drivers to pay attention to how this law is passed because you need to know what you can and cannot be pulled over for.
The problem we're facing with this bill as Florida drivers is that the bill isn't worded very clearly.
House Bill 76 Started as a Cell Phone Restriction
Florida is one of just three states that does not allow police officers or state troopers to pull you over for using your cell phone exclusively. The original law allowed police to issue a citation for texting only if you'd already violated another highway safety requirement - such as poor driving, a headlight, speeding, etc. This is called a "secondary offense" - it's something you can't be pulled over for exclusively.
The bill itself started as a restriction that specifically applied to texting. The wording was modified to be more vague - diction like "using telecommunications devices" was changed to "driving while distracted", which is a very vague term that needs to be defined.
How Are Legislators Defining "Distracted Driving"
Forgive the legalese, but sadly the definitions we find in laws aren't as simple as consulting Webster's or the OED, so we have to pay attention to the definitions legislators make when trying to pass a bill. Ultimately, the question after safety and security from other drivers while driving must be, what can I get in trouble for? Does it make sense for me to be pulled over for this? And also, how much will I need to prove if I get into an accident and an officer says I was distracted? How much can an officer actually see me doing in my car?
The police and state troopers have a tough job, and it's not their fault when legislators define new laws unclearly. If anything, that probably makes their job harder. It means more court time, more evidence, more anger at the police when we should be angry with the politicians. So let's figure out just what "distracted driving" means before we get up in arms about it.
Distracted Driving, As It Stands Now
The proposed definition for distracted driving is the following, as found on the Florida Senate website (flsenate.gov):
(a)“Driving while distracted” means the inattentive operation of a motor vehicle. Inattentive or distracted driving conduct includes 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."
So... if the bill passes, you could be pulled over for "any conduct, task, or action that causes distraction". Thankfully, the bill is getting a lot of flak for it's vague language.
Nevertheless, pay attention to how and if it passes, because primary offenses are things you can be pulled over for, and tickets get in the way of vehicle registration and can lead to suspended licenses. In no way do we advise applying makeup at speed or texting at speed, but are makeup related accidents so common we need to legislate them? Are that many people applying makeup and getting into accidents? What do you think should be getting attention for a distracted driving law? I think we can all agree that getting a ticket for petting your dog seems a little harsh. At the end of the day, we have to be adults about operating a heavy vehicle at a high speed and be polite to other drivers, but that doesn't mean the police should have to waste their time looking for errant dog petters. Do policiticians think we're so inept at driving that we can't pet our dogs while we drive a car?
Let us know your thoughts, and stay safe, Florida drivers!
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