TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Highway Patrol is taking a "soft approach" in the first months of the state's new texting and driving law.
Troopers said that during a meeting with House transportation lawmakers, this week.
As of July 1, texting and driving became a primary offense in Florida. Officers no longer need another reason to ticket drivers.
Highway Patrol told lawmakers troopers have issued 438 warnings. Across all agencies, law enforcement has only given out only 542 tickets.
Highway Patrol Chief Mark Brown said the rather slow start is due to most officers still educating drivers on the new policy before the beginning of the new year. He said law enforcement will kick off the training wheels after that.
For now, though, state officials have created a public awareness campaign and are handing those pulled over for texting and driving tear-off info sheets on the new rule.
Critics have called the law too weak to make any noticeable change— wanting Florida to be completely handsfree.
Demetrius Branca is one of them. He lost his son Anthony Branca in a texting and driving crash a few years ago. The Tallahassee father has been fighting for a tough law ever since. The newest policy, he says, is not what it should be.
“It’s a first step," he said. "But it’s a first step that should have been taken in 1998.”
Highway Patrol took a more hopeful view, saying the change is progress. Chief Brown expected, in time, it would save lives.
"Most people want to do what’s right," Brown said. "Most people want to follow the law. It’s a matter of changing behavior and it’s a tough behavior to change.”
A second part of the policy is set to start in a couple of weeks. October 1st, Florida will go handsfree in work and school zones.
Unlike the new primary texting and driving offense, which isn't considered a moving violation, this provision has drivers facing a fine and points on their license.