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What Exactly Is Distracted Driving and Is It a Crime?

If you have been involved in a an SUV or car accident in the Tampa Bay area call Tampa Personal Injury Attorney, Martin J. Hernandez at 813-755-9500
Woman texting and driving

While there are several forms of distracted driving, the most prolific one is cell phone use. As of Jul 1, 2019, it is illegal to text while behind the wheel in Florida. It’s also illegal to use your smartphone for any reason like emailing or instant messaging that involves manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, or symbols on a wireless device ‘for the purpose of nonvoice communications’ according to Florida law. Law enforcement starting issuing tickets on January 1, 2020.

So, can you use your phone at all while in the car? There are exceptions. You can text at a stoplight or while stuck in traffic. The law specifically reads that ‘a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated and is not subject to the prohibition.’ But if you’re texting and the traffic starts moving, it’s illegal to finish the text.

The law also excludes exceptions for using GPS, Google maps, or other navigation apps. It also exempts any data read by the vehicle, such as radio broadcasts and safety-related information including weather and emergency alerts. As of October 1, 2019, it is illegal to use a handheld device in a construction zone while workers are present or in a school zone. You can only use your smartphone in these areas if you can use hands-free technology. The law does not apply to law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel.

What if you’re caught being distracted by your cell phone? The first offense is $30 and a point off your license. The second is $60 and three points off your license if you’re ticketed again within five years. Remember, law enforcement officers cannot take your phone without a warrant. Likewise, they can’t hold onto your phone while waiting for a warrant. Police have to inform drivers that they can decline a search and consent for an officer to search a phone must be ‘voluntary and unequivocal.’

While cell phone use is the most common form of distracted driving, there are other reasons you can be charged with this crime. There are three distinct groups of distractions—visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual distractions involve taking your eyes off the road, such as checking a child’s seat belt or looking in the mirror. Manual distractions would be something like searching through a bag, brushing your hair, applying makeup, or eating lunch behind the wheel. Cognitive distractions simply mean you’re not focused on the road. This might entail being ‘lost in thought’ or trying to cope with a loss or other life challenge. Many distracted drivers are experiencing a combination of all three.

The National Safety Council recently reported that 1.6 million (25 percent) of all crashes are due to talking on a cell phone and another 1 million (18 percent) are caused by texting while driving. The best way to not be a statistic is to not text and drive or talk on your cell phone without a hands-free system.

If you’re involved in a distracted driving accident, it’s important to seek medical attention and the advice of proven, trial-tested personal injury attorneys like those at Fernandez & Hernandez Attorneys At Law. You can reach them for advice 24/7 by calling 813.755.9500. Hablan español.

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