Florida will become one of the last states to make texting while driving a primary traffic offense under a bill signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday.
The new law will also ban the use of any handheld wireless communications devices in school and construction zones.
Under current law, officers can only cite drivers for texting if they are pulled over for another violation. The new law allows officers to stop motorists simply for texting alone. DeSantis signed the bill at a Sarasota high school.
"Studies have shown that texting while driving is one of the worst of all driving distractions and a recent study ranked Florida as the second worst state for distracted driving," DeSantis said. "It's my hope that by taking action to address distracted drivers today, that we will be able to make our roads safer and hopefully prevent some of these crashes that we've seen, injuries and, unfortunately, some of the deaths that we've seen."
DeSantis said that in 2016, Florida had nearly 50,000 accidents caused by distracted driving resulting in 233 deaths.
"It is almost impossible to enforce texting while driving as a secondary offense," said Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells. "Making texting while driving a primary offense will allow law enforcement to enforce the law and to save a lot of lives."
A first offense will be punishable by a $30 fine, with a second costing $60. Court costs and fees also would apply, and points will be added to licenses. The law takes effect July 1, but only warnings will be given until January, when officers can begin writing citations.
The texting ban does not apply to a driver using a navigation device or system or to a driver whose vehicle is stationary.
Florida was among a handful of states that didn't make texting while driving a primary offense, leaving South Dakota, Ohio, and Nebraska as the only states that make texting while driving a secondary offense. Missouri bans texting for drivers younger than 21. Montana has no ban on texting while driving.