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Politics / Issues

New Florida Law Means Police Can Pull Over Drivers Who Text At Wheel

Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at podium on high school lawn
Kerry Sheridan/WUSF
Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at Sarasota High about a new law that will make texting and driving a primary offense in Florida

Beginning in July, Florida police can pull over drivers they suspect of texting while driving. That’s according to a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday.

Until now, police needed another reason to pull over a driver, like a broken tail light. Florida now joins most other states, which have already made texting and driving a primary offense.  

Gov. DeSantis says distracted driving killed 233 people statewide in 2016, the last year for which figures are available.

“Studies have shown that texting while driving is one of the worst of all driver distractions and studies have ranked Florida as the second worst state for distracted driving,” he said.

Governor sits at table signing bill
Credit Kerry Sheridan / WUSF
Outside Sarasota High School on May 17, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signs a bill into law that makes texting and driving a primary offense. Supporter Jackie Toledo (R), looks on.

Bill supporter Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) says she hopes the law will lead to widespread change.

“Texting and driving has become an epidemic. We’ve all seen it and frankly we have all done it,” she said. "This law is about saving lives and making our roads safe.”

In the audience at Sarasota High School, where the bill signing took place, was activist Mark Merwitzer, who began to press lawmakers for a change three years ago when he was 16, learning to drive in Miami.

“I looked to my left and I see someone veering over into my lane and they just had their head down and they were completely oblivious to the road. And that happened to me at least nine times on the way home. It was like a contact sport down there.”

Merwitzer is now 19 and studying political science at the University of Florida.

He says, only half-jokingly, that he is considering a run for president in 2040.

Mark Merwitzer holds signed copy of new Florida law
Credit Kerry Sheridan / WUSF
Activist Mark Merwitzer began pressing lawmakers to make texting and driving a primary offense three years ago, when he was 16 and learning to drive in Miami

The fine will be $30 for a first-time offense, and $60 the second time.

DeSantis also signed a bill Friday that paves the way for three new toll roads, despite opposition from environmentalists who say the projects would kill wildlife and damage wetlands.

The new roads may not be the last, he said. 

"We are probably going to need more than that just given how our state is growing and traffic can be a big problem so I am supportive of infrastructure," DeSantis said.

The governor also responded to reports that the White House is planning to release thousands of undocumented migrants in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

"We cannot accommodate in Florida just dumping unlawful migrants into our state.  I think it will tax our resources, the schools, the health care, law enforcement, state agencies," DeSantis said.

DeSantis said the full plans have not been released by Customs and Border Patrol, but some details were leaked to local law enforcement, who then spoke to the media. 

The Republican governor said he plans to speak to President Donald Trump about it.

“It is going to ultimately something I am going to have to talk to the president about and I don’t think this should happen in Florida.”

Law enforcement briefed on the plans said the arrivals are set to begin within the next two weeks.

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