By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Last week, Florida became the 41st state to ban texting while driving, effective Oct. 1.
Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law on May 28 that makes it illegal to manually type or enter multiple letters, numbers, symbols or other characters into a wireless communication device while driving, including text messaging, emailing and instant messaging, a press release said.
"As a father and a grandfather, texting while driving is something that concerns me when my loved ones are on the road," Gov. Scott said in a press release. "The 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day are known as the deadliest days on the road for teenagers. We must do everything we can at the state level to keep our teenagers and everyone on our roads safe. I cannot think of a better time to officially sign this bill into law," he said.
Sgt. Albert Iovino of the Indian River County Sheriff's Office said the law is a positive thing for the state because it will keep the roadways safer.
Driving requires the brain to work harder, using primary and secondary functions to operate on the road, Sgt. Iovino said.
"When you text, you're thinking and you're spelling out words, taking up some of that secondary brain function and you end up paying attention to that instead of the roadway," he said.
Law enforcement officers can cite individuals $30 for the first offense, and $60 for subsequent offenses, Sgt. Iovino said.
Unlike the seat belt law that requires everyone to buckle up or face a ticket, a police officer cannot pull someone over for texting while driving. Another reason must be present.
"It's not a primary stop offense," Sgt. Iovino said.
The age group that will likely be the most affected by this new law are those in their teenage years and slightly older who are used to being on their communication devices 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and to whom texting is second nature.
While it may seem that tapping a few times on a handheld screen and driving isn't very distracting, dedicated studies have shown otherwise.
On a national level, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging created a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
Eleven percent of drivers ages 18-20 who were involved in an automobile accident and survived admitted they were sending or receiving texts when they crashed, according to statistics from the Federal Communications Commission.
Physically, texting is usually carried out by bending the head at a 45-degree or 60-degree angle to view a screen, once again taking the focus off of what is in front of an individual, and increasing the hazard of texting while driving, Sgt. Iovino said.
"I've read studies where they equated texting drivers to drivers impaired with alcohol or drugs," he said.
Driving around town, he constantly sees drivers distracted by their handheld devices, and are unaware of what is going on around them.
In order to charge someone with a texting violation, the officer must observe the motorist "acting in a manner consistent with texting."
Julie Jones, Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director said in a press release, "Nothing is so important that it is worth risking your life by sending a text message while behind the wheel of a vehicle. This legislation will help send the message to all drivers that they need to keep their eyes on the road, not on their cell phone."
The law does not ban voice communications by phone while driving or speech-to-text functions.
The law does not apply to individuals performing official duties as an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle or those who are reporting an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement.
A user's billing records for a wireless communication device to prove whether a violation occurred can only be used in case of a crash resulting in death or personal injury.