The new statewide law that made texting and driving a secondary offense on Oct. 1 has not generated many traffic citations in North Central Florida.
Results indicate that drivers ages 18 to 25, specifically college students, received more than half of the 10 citations handed out in Alachua County during October, according to Ben Tobias, Gainesville Police Department spokesperson.
“I’m not trying to put the students in a bad light, but the majority were the 18 to 25 crowd that we issued them to,” Tobias said.
By comparison, Marion and Levy counties were the only nearby areas outside of Alachua to issue texting and driving citations. Marion County had two and Levy County had one.
Tobias attributed the discrepancy to the smaller populations and lack of college students in the neighboring counties.
“I think based on our area and population. It’s the nature of the beast with a college town,” he said.
A $30 fine is issued for the first offense. A second offense within five years draws a $60 fine and three points on a driving record.
The University of Florida Police Department did not make any of the 10 citations.
“We have three motorcycle officers that are dedicated to traffic duties, and their function is to observe for traffic law infractions,” said UPD Sgt. Matt Davis. “GPD has a traffic unit similar to that, but they have probably three times as many officers as us.”
“There are a lot less people on our campus driving versus the number of people driving in the city limits, and they have a larger number of officers patrolling than we do, so they may have been able to come across more (offenders) just by probability.”
The Alachua County Sherriff’s Office does not have any traffic units on the road.
Tobias said GPD, which issued all 10 citations in Alachua County, does not set out to enforce specific traffic laws and won’t run any special details looking for texting and driving.
He just wishes young people would put down their phones while driving.
“That age group, unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get across,” Tobias said. “When I got my driver’s license and began driving, there were no cell phones in the cars. There were no distractions. It was the car and the road.
“Now, the younger generation gets their driver’s license, and the first thing they do is fire up the phone with their car. It’s kind of just synonymous, and that is a horrible thing. We need to try to change that behavior, and I’m hoping that’s what this law does.”
Sgt. Tracy Hisler-Pace, Florida Highway Patrol Troop B spokeswoman, said although her troopers haven’t cited any drivers yet, she feels the ban will make a difference in the future.
“We’re just very happy as an agency that this law is on the books now,” she said. “I see it going along the same lines as the seatbelt (law). One day it will hopefully become primary, but as for now, we just continue to do the best job that we can every day and keep the motoring public safe.”