Many of the states in the US have cracked down on the epidemic of texting and driving. A well-known cause of traffic jams and accidents, some which have proven fatal, texting absorbs so much of the brain’s cognitive capacity that the driver’s capabilities are nearly reduced to those of a drunk driver. In the early iteration of cellular phones, drivers in some states were banned from even holding the phones with their hands and were required to use a hands-free system or else risk being pulled over. Today, though, with the increased use and urgency of social media, states want to ensure the safety of the roads and all the drivers who use them.
Florida is one of the last lagging states to catch up on the laws prohibiting drivers from manipulating their phones while operating a car. This coming term in the Florida State legislature, though, legislators are bringing a law that will make texting and driving a primary offense, meaning police officers can pull you over if they catch you texting. Previously, texting was only a secondary offense, meaning that if an officer had pulled you over for something else, the driver could also be written up for texting.
The law as it’s written also comes with a cadre of civil rights protections meant to preemptively curb any abuses of the power the law gives the officers. For example, it’s already been established that the police can compel something that you have, but not something that you know, so officers would be able to force someone to open their phone with their thumbprint (or face, if you have the iPhone X), but cannot force someone to enter an alphanumeric password. Florida’s law takes into account that cellphones are very personal items and may contain sensitive information, and as such, legislators are debating whether the police need a warrant to confiscate a cellphone if a drive is pulled over for texting and driving.
The texting and driving civil rights protections in Florida are meant to keep police from alleging that they saw a phone in someone’s hand and then using intimidation tactics to take the phone and probe for other criminal activity or personal information. Concerns ranging from privacy to racial profiling guarantee that this bill will face an uphill battle for approval once the legislature resumes in early January.