Florida drivers now must put down their cell phones anytime they are in a school or work zone or they could eventually get a $60 ticket.
State Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, helped champion the bill that went into effect Tuesday and was at Dale Mabry Elementary School in Tampa on its first day. Toledo stood alongside Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, school Superintendent Jeff Eakins and School Board Member Stacy Hahn to say education -- not enforcement -- is the key.
“It's definitely time for Florida to step up and start saving lives and changing behavior, and I think this will absolutely do that," Toledo said at a news conference held as middle schoolers biked by and school buses rumbled to the middle school around the corner.
“This is a way to save lives,” she added. “And this is something we've been working on for many, many years, even before my time.”
The school and active work zone rules are part of Florida's new anti-texting and driving law, most of which went into effect on July 1. The second phase of the law prohibits not only texting but phone calls and any other uses of your mobile phone if you are near a school or a construction zone. Those zones are completely hands-free.
Drivers who don't put their phones down will get a warning until January 1. After that, they risk a $60 ticket and 3 points on their license.
Chronister said, however, that his deputies and other police will not rely on blanket enforcement to change the way people drive with distractions.
“This is going to be no different than when we wanted to change the pattern of behavior, destructive behavior, when it came to seatbelts,” the sheriff said. “You know, we didn't ticket our way into a safer community by ticketing everybody who wasn't wearing their seatbelt. Yes, some needed some enforcement and that little bit of encouragement to change that pattern of behavior. But it's going to be more about education.”
Next up for Florida motorists, look for state legislators to consider making the entire state hands-free -- in the next two years. Toledo said she is committed to introducing a total hands-free law in the 2021 legislation session.