New texting-while-driving law today? Well, maybe … kinda … sort of …

(NOTE: This is commentary. It is my opinion. Please, regard it as such … and you’ll find links to news about the new Florida law about texting-while-driving below …)

Today, Monday, July 1, 2019, a new texting-while-driving law goes into force in my home state of Florida.

Well, not really. OK, maybe. Hmmm … well, sort-of.

Of course, there’s a reason: Politicians, lobbyists and lawyers crafted the law, so it is ambiguous at best and completely ambiguous at worst. Look at the digital billboards placed in Collier County in this double-photo above — you’d think the new law prohibits having a phone in your hand. It doesn’t … and won’t ever.

The texting-while-driving statute begins today, but there’s no real enforcement until Jan. 1, 2020. And then, having a phone in your hand won’t be a violation 95 percent of the time – despite it being considered an “anti-texting” law with a phone in your hand. Naturally. That makes sense.

Where I am going with this? It’s simple. To stop texting-while-driving (what everyone wants to believe the new law will do), it should be straightforward and clear: No phone in your hand while driving. That’s an easy law to understand and, most importantly, an easy law to enforce. Well, as easy as any law can be enforced.

Phone-in-hand? Ticket!

Reality? No so fast, cowboy!

Let’s not make it understandable! God knows, that would be too easy.

Let’s make the job even more difficult for officers/deputies/troopers since they will be the low-hanging fruit in the blame game that’s sure to arrive quickly after Jan. 1, 2020. Either they won’t be able to detect “real” texting or they’ll be accused of using the law to illegally stop drivers they want to question. Actually, some news stories have already pointed up these glaring flaws in the law or how law enforcement is already prepared to abuse it.

Of course, a simply stated “phone-in-hand is illegal” law is too easy, intelligent and gets the job done – all qualities that are long-forgotten in the United States in this day-and-age of, “Well, I had to have the phone for this or that …” and let’s excuse some because, well, they have an excuse and as long as you have one of those, you’re good, right?

The new law in Florida that somewhat begins today accomplishes … well, nothing. It’s not any real deterrent to texting while driving – even when law enforcement officers can issue citations. Why? Well, let’s look at it:

  • First, you won’t get a ticket until Jan. 1, 2020, because of a grace and teaching period. Sigh. Law enforcement at its worst.
  • Next, will it be illegal to text while driving? Hmmmm. Sort of. Maybe. Could be. The law was supposed to crack-down on drivers who text, but this one sure doesn’t do it. You can still have a phone in your hand since it is legal to use it for navigation (GPS, Google maps, etc.). Only after Oct. 1, 2019, will it be illegal to have the phone in your hand for ANY REASON in a school zone or construction zone with workers present (but it will still be after Jan. 1, 2020, before you get a ticket for that one) – but only in those two places and not such unimportant places such as high-speed interstates; clogged traffic that requires your undivided attention; or in situations of fog, rain or other inclement weather that might be worthy of you not having to text about what you just had for lunch.
  • Depending on the source about how the law works, you can be holding and using a phone but it will have to be determined by the law enforcement officer that you were texting and not using GPS or answering a phone call legally since, of course, you weren’t on Bluetooth. Also, the officer will have to prove in court that you were texting. And, absolutely no one will admit it since officers cannot confiscate your phone to find out. Well, some would admit it, but they wouldn’t be texting anyway.
  • Worst of all, there are some who evaluate the new law as saying you can text while stopped at a red light, but not a stop sign or in backed-up traffic where you might move at any time.

Just to be clear, I’m totally opposed to a random search of anyone’s phone on any grounds or any citizen being required to turn over their personal phone. Besides, that’s a moot point since the simple expedient of “phone-in-hand means ticket” would render, well … that point as moot.

So, with it up to a law enforcement officer’s discretion to say that you were texting and not using the GPS, what does that mean? I’m sure that many court cases will follow – as will search-and-seizure after someone is stopped for “texting” but is found not to be “texting” but has a couple of bags of drugs on the back seat in plain sight or the “odor” of marijuana is in the air (before Florida legalizes it, of course).

Calling this miserable attempt at a law a “can-of-worms” is simplifying the stupidity of it.

In the end, the only real penalty is that the officer can stop you and cause you momentary delay. That’s an insult to law enforcement officers who have to deal with this new law and will certainly come under unwarranted fire when texters are obvious and an officer appears oblivious since he or she knows they can’t win in the end and naturally looks the other way.

So, the law that begins today is itself proof positive that laws can be total crap.

If you ultimately get a citation after the grace period, you will have the option of going to court and claiming you were using it legally (remember, having a phone in your hand is NOT ILLEGAL at most times). Of course, the officer will say you were double-thumb texting and probably will win the heart and mind of the judge, but ultimately the texter might still prevail on an issue that’s nothing more than a waste of time for everyone, especially the law enforcement officer. Then you have appeals … ka-ching! again for lawyers.

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