Florida Legislators Focus on Texting, Cell Phone Use While Driving for Upcoming Session

At least three bills have been prefiled for the upcoming session of the Florida Legislature that pertain to the use of mobile devices while operating a motor vehicle, indicating that the Legislature, or at least some factions, are interested in making the penalties for offenses surrounding distracted driving more severe. Current law prohibits using any handheld device to read or transmit text or character-based communications while operating a motor vehicle. The offense is a nonmoving violation, punishable with a fine. For a second offense, it is punishable as a movable violation with three points assigned to the offender’s driving license.

However, texting while driving is only a secondary offense. This means that police officers in Palm Beach County or Broward County will not pull you over for the offense of texting of driving by itself – if an officer sees you texting and driving, he or she will not pull you over. However, if you are pulled over for another offense, like speeding, running a stop sign or an illegal lane change, and the officer suspects you are texting and driving, he or she may give you a citation.

One of the bills that was been filed would change that. Senate Bill 246, from Senator Maria Lorts Sachs of Delray Beach, would remove the requirement that the offense only be a secondary offense. This would allow police to pull a driver over if they allege he or she was driving and texting or driving and emailing, rather than merely citing the driver if he or she is pulled over for another offense. The bill would also increase the penalties for driving while texting in a school zone, doubling the fines a person could receive for the offense.

The other two bills target safety of minors surrounding distracted driving, but in very different ways. Senate Bill 492, from Senator Geri Thompson, would make it a nonmoving offense for a driver to operate a mobile device to send or read any type of text, email or instant message in a posted school zone or designated school crossing.

Senate Bill 460, from Senator Anitere Flores of Miami-Dade County, prohibits the use of any mobile communications device for any purpose – including texting, emailing, instant messaging and having voice calls – by a person younger than 18 while driving, handheld or not.

It’s not clear whether any of these bills would pass. They must be passed by a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed by the governor. However, it is clear some lawmakers are seeking to crack down on cell phone use while driving.

PROPOSED DUI LEGISLATION-HB-299: VOTE NO!

In an society of social networking, media events, marketing opportunities, social media events and events which are purposely structured to occur at night and occur with cocktails and food, it is natural and obvious that professionals and the like will attend these events, have something to drink and ultimately possibly operate a motor vehicle. It is inevitable that DUI arrests will always continue to be made and will continue to occur at a high rate in the State of Florida due to the police agencies continued effort to combat drunk driving.

Under the current state of the law, when an accused is charged with DUI and alleged to have given a breath or blood over a .08, a jury may presume that the person’s normal faculties were impaired. However, that evidence may be rebutted by other evidence.  This means that evidence can be offered through cross examination or through direct evidence that the defendant’s breath or blood alcohol level was not above a .08 “at the time they were” or “while” driving.

This has been commonly referred to by lawyers as the “time of driving” defense to breath and blood cases.  However, House Bill 299 is proposed and is an outright disaster the constitutional rights of the accused in DUI cases.

The bill proposes that a jury may find that a defendant is guilty of DUI if they find that they had a breath or blood alcohol “any time” after they were driving and after drinking.  There is no rebuttable presumption.  This effectively would mean that an accused can be found guilty of DUI without the ability to offer evidence challenging these results.  Anytime after drinking?  This proposal ignores the fact that alcohol, scientifically is proven to not fully absorb in the human body for potential up to 90 minutes after the final drink.

Should a defendant not have the right to challenge the State’s evidence?  Why don’t we just allow the State of Florida to just file the information and that evidence shall be sufficient to find the defendant guilty?  This bill should not be passed and is overbroad, vague and contrary to all due process principles in our constitution allow the defendant the right to a fair trial in front of a jury of his or her peers.

This bill should not be passed.  Meltzer & Bell, P.A. does not support this bill.  Visit us at www.thetrafficstop.com to read about how we help those accused of DUI and traffic violations.  We are strongly opposed to this bill and hope that those who read it will feel the same way as it eliminates an accused’s right to raise one of the most important issues in a breath or blood case.