Sarasota County Sheriff criticizes new texting while driving law

8 On Your Side

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is speaking out against Florida’s new texting while driving law.

He feels the law looks good on paper, but will be difficult to enforce.

It boils down to this – how can a cop prove that you’re texting and not using your GPS? The only answer is to have a law enforcement officer confiscate your phone, and he doesn’t think that’s a good idea.

Florida’s new texting while driving law officially went into effect Monday. For the first few months, officers will only issue warnings. Enforcement will begin January 1. If you’re spotted texting behind the wheel, you’ll get a citation.

If you drive through a school zone or a construction zone, you need to completely put the phone down.

“It takes one second and you could just get you know, killed. I believe in it,” said one woman.

“I think it’s a good idea, it’s another distraction for drivers and it’s a safety risk for everybody,” said another woman.

But Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight is not a fan of this texting law. He says it’ll be difficult to enforce. In fact, he’d prefer that you be banned from even holding a phone while driving.

“The only way a deputy can find out is to do a traffic stop and ask you for your device, and that comes into some legal ramifications of privacy issues. People may not want you to have their device,” said Sheriff Tom Knight. “Are we violating someone’s 4th amendment right to search and seizure? Would somebody consent to giving the device to the deputy so the deputy can determine what the texting was? My idea would be no.”

“I don’t really think its gonna do a whole lot to cut back on the traffic crashes,” Knight added.

Sheriff Knight’s deputies must have clear probable cause before pulling someone over.

“They have to be very well sure that that person that is using the device is violating the law before they do the stop,” said Knight. “They don’t want to be on the side of the road, being a roadside lawyer.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 20 states, including DC, prohibit drivers from holding a phone while driving. Sheriff Knight says there are plenty of hands-free options available, so he hopes one day Florida will follow suit.

“The hands are supposed to be on the steering wheel to drive. Not holding an iPhone on the one hand and driving the other one and looking down at your phone while texting,” said Sheriff Knight. “The legislative body is getting there. They just need the courage to do it the way many states do it.”

If you do get pulled over and cited for texting while driving, you could face a fine of up to $100 and three points on your license.

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