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New Florida Traffic Law Could Inhibit Drivers' Civil Rights

New Florida Traffic Law Could Inhibit Drivers' Civil Rights

On July 1, 2019, a new law went into effect that allows Florida police to pull over drivers for texting-while-driving. While it had previously been an offense drivers could be cited for only if they were pulled over for something else, it is now a "primary offense," meaning it can result in a traffic stop even if there are no other violations observed by police.

Texting-while-driving is certainly dangerous. As many applaud the reduction in traffic accidents the new law is intended to affect, there is a very real concern about the impact this law will have on the civil rights of Florida drivers. Part of the law makes it allowable to use a phone to access GPS or map apps, an explanation drivers can give to the police when their car is stopped or to the court when the ticket is set for a hearing.

So, it’s legal to use GPS and map apps behind the wheel. The problem is that anyone legally using a GPS or map app while driving can now be pulled over because police officers can’t tell exactly what a driver is doing on their phone. A driver using a GPS or map app looks the same to an officer as a driver texting.

Why the New Texting-While-Driving Law Threatens Constitutional Rights

Officers must make the stop upon simply observing a person with a phone in their hand. Once detained, the driver may be searched and arrested, which would have never happened if they were not stopped in the first place. This violates the Fourth Amendment, which forbids police from detaining individuals unless there is sufficient reason to believe they broke the law. By the time the police officer determines it was only a GPS or map app a driver was using, it may already be too late.

The law prohibiting texting-while-driving will likely be challenged in court when drivers stopped for using a phone are then arrested for a criminal offense. It is a bad law for a simple reason: it requires police officers to make traffic stops of people who simply appear to be using their phone, which may be 100% legal, depending on what they are using the phone to do.

If you or someone you care about about is arrested following any kind of traffic stop, let us analyze the case to determine if the stop was illegal. It may mean the difference between a conviction and a case dismissal.

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