MIAMI — Gov. Rick Scott signed a statewide ban on texting while driving into law Tuesday, making Florida the 40th state to enact a texting-while-driving ban for all drivers.
The law makes it a secondary offense to read or send a text, email or instant message on a smartphone while driving. That means police have to first stop drivers for another offense like an illegal turn. Florida's seatbelt law also began as a secondary offense but is now a primary offense.
Scott signed the bill at a Miami high school, noting that the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are known as the deadliest days on the road for teenagers. However, the law doesn't go into effect until October.
"This is going to save lives. This is going to make sure our teenagers are safe while driving, that they're not distracted while driving," he said.
It took five tries before Florida lawmakers finally passed the texting ban. Previous efforts stalled in the face of House Republican opposition, with conservative members worried about government intrusion into people's lives.
The House added a provision allowing police to use drivers' mobile phone records against them only when texting causes a crash resulting in death or personal injury. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has said that could help to defend the law against privacy concerns.
Drivers who text take their eyes off the road for almost five seconds, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the trucking industry. At 55 mph, a driver can cross the equivalent of a football field while not looking.
There were 256,443 reported crashes in Florida in 2012. In 4,841 of those crashes, a driver had been texting or otherwise using an "electronic communication device" while driving, according to a preliminary report from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
Student Jackie Garcia said she tries to put her phone in the glove compartment when she's driving.
"It's just so temping because you know (your phone) is there and you want to reach for it," said the 17-year-old, who was among nearly two dozen students who stood next to Scott wearing "No Text On Board" T-shirts as he signed the bill.
Critics said the law should have made texting while driving a primary offense and complained the law will also be difficult to enforce.
"It's a watered down bill, but something is better than nothing," said Democratic Rep. Irv Slosberg, whose teen daughter died in an accident with a distracted driver.
When asked if he thought texting while driving should be a primary offense, Scott said "it's the right way to start."
The ban covers tablet computers as well as mobile phones, but excludes using a talk-to-text feature. It also allows texting while stopped at a red light.
The bill allows the use of phone records in defense against a ticket, but some phone companies' records don't differentiate between manual texting and talk-to-text messaging.
A first violation is a $30 fine plus court costs. A second or subsequent violation within five years adds three points to the driver's license and carries a $60 fine.
AT&T, the AARP, AAA, trial lawyers, businesses and state law enforcement groups have all spoken in support of the ban.