Sarasota Sheriff Believes New Texting While Driving Law is Unenforceable

When Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that made it a primary offense to text while driving, most people lauded the action.  The dangers with texting and driving have received a great deal of publicity and rightly so, texting or any other activity with a mobile device while driving amounts to distracted driving and has caused numerous car accidents and needless fatalities.

However, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight doesn’t agree.  He believe the new law is essentially unenforceable and he’s right.  In a well-written, thoughtful piece published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, the Sheriff outlines a scenario in which the officer would be forced to violate a driver’s 4th Amendment rights in order to enforce the law.

“So, imagine that a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputy notices a distracted driver, suspects that he is texting illegally, and makes a traffic stop.

Because the deputy is in one car and the driver in the other, the deputy can’t see exactly what the driver is using his phone to do; she only knows the driver is using it. She engages the driver in conversation, and he states that he was using it for navigation purposes, or to receive safety-related information.

The deputy is not certain that his answer rings true, so she asks for and receives consent to inspect the device.

My guess is that the driver is not happy about turning over his phone because of privacy concerns. Perhaps he was just texting his girlfriend and doesn’t want to share the content with a stranger.

And according to the law, he doesn’t have to turn over his phone — which means the deputy can’t establish that a violation of the law occurred.

Even if the driver does provide his phone willingly, in the time it took for the deputy to walk to his car, all he needs to do is close his applications or delete his latest text messages.

While this bill was written with good intention, it is far from a solution to texting while driving and is simply not enforceable.”

The Sheriff makes an important point and goes further by stating that his deputies will comply with the law but at the same time not violate a driver’s civil rights.

“That is why, beginning Jan. 1, 2020, our deputies will enforce this law only when they can do so with 100 percent confidence. We will also continue providing education on the dangers of distracted driving through social media campaigns like our weekly “Traffic Tip Tuesday.”

In the meantime, your best bet is to drive in a way that gives no law enforcement officer a reason to stop you in the first place.”

If this is an example of how Sheriff Knight operates, the people of Sarasota are in good hands.

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