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Friday, September 29, 2023

Starting this summer, texting while driving could cost you money and points on your license.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law on Friday that makes texting while driving a primary offense rather than a secondary offense. If police officers see a driver texting, the driver can be stopped even if they have not committed another violation, said Keyna Cory, a coordinator for the Florida Don’t Text and Drive Coalition.

Cory said she and her colleagues have discussed the bill since 2012. House Bill 107 was originally proposed by Florida representatives Jackie Toledo and Emily Slosberg.

Cory created the Florida Don’t Text and Drive Coalition in 2014 to better advocate for this bill. Under her guidance, it has been addressed to some extent at almost every single legislative session since then, she said.

Cory recalled a similar struggle in the 1980s when seatbelt violations were considered only a secondary offense.

“Even back then, opponents tried to argue that by making it a primary offense, it infringed on their personal freedoms,” Cory said. “Although I believe that personal freedoms are important too, safety violations like not wearing a seatbelt or texting while driving start to infringe on the freedoms of everyone else around you.”

In more recent years, Cory remembered hearing about the death of UF graduate Patrick Wanninkhof in 2015. As he was riding his bike across the country for charity, Wanninkhof was killed by someone who was texting while driving.

“That hurts my heart when families come in and say that they have lost children as a result of texting and driving,” Cory said. “It tugs at your heart that their child was taken away from them for no reason.”

Although the law goes into effect July 1, it will begin with a “grace period” to allow drivers to wean themselves off of their phones. The law will be more heavily enforced in school and construction zones on October 1 and in all other areas on January 1. Each violation will cost about $30 and point deductions from their licenses, said Cory.

Ethan Long, 38, works at Gator Cycle on 13th Street and has seen his fair share of dangerous situations as a result of sharing the road with distracted drivers.

As a biker in Gainesville, Long says he often has close calls where he thinks a driver sees him, only to find out at the last second that they don’t.

“It’ll definitely help drivers see bikes a little more as well now that there’s one less thing to look at while driving,” said Long.

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