What Every Floridian Should Know About Driving Laws

Driving is a privilege. If you own a car, you are required to carry auto insurance. You need to know what that insurance may or may not cover, what happens when you get a ticket, and other laws related to driving.

You should also know the consequences of drinking while driving. While you can vote at 18, you can't legally drink alcohol until you are 21; and no matter your age, you can never drive with an open container of alcohol in your car (even if it's the passenger's drink). Driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is a serious crime. Here's what you need to know about probable cause chemical testing – breath, urine or blood – your rights and responsibilities, and the consequences associated with a DUI conviction.

Driving is a privilege regulated by the State of Florida. It carries great responsibility.

Yes. Florida law requires that students under the age of 18 be enrolled in an educational program and satisfactorily meet relevant attendance requirements in order to apply for or retain a driver’s license. Students who are under 18 and who have unsatisfactory attendance records or drop out of school will have their license suspended. A student under the age of 18 whose license has been suspended may have the license reinstated one time by improving attendance or returning to school. This law does not apply to anyone over the age of 18. For more information, contact the Department of Education (Bureau of Family & Community Outreach at 888-665-5055) or review their website.

If you leave a gas station, without paying for gasoline you are subject to losing your driver’s license. You may also be charged with theft.

If you are found guilty of an out of state driving infraction, points will be assessed against your Florida driver’s license.

Yes. According to Florida law, if you own a motor vehicle with four or more wheels you must carry at least $10,000 of personal injury protection insurance (PIP) also known as no-fault insurance. It is also mandatory that you have a minimum of $10,000 of property damage liability insurance. Failure to provide proof of insurance may result in a suspension of your driving privilege, including your vehicle tag and registration.

Personal injury protection insurance (PIP) provides coverage regardless of whether you cause an accident (are “at-fault”). PIP is designed to reduce the necessity of suing for reimbursement of medical expenses and lost wages incurred as a result of auto accidents. PIP may pay for up to 80% of reasonable and necessary medical expenses, 60% of lost wages and $5,000 for death benefits. As of 2013, Florida’s PIP statute provides for medical expense coverage only if treatment is given within 14 days of the accident. Thereafter, only reasonable follow-up care related to diagnoses made at the initial visit are covered. Medical benefit coverage is capped at $2,500 unless a medical doctor, dentist, physician assistant or advanced registered nurse practitioner has found an “emergency medical condition” and then can you receive up to the $10,000 in medical benefit coverage.

For accidents that happen in Florida, PIP covers you and relatives who live in your home, certain passengers, and others who drive your car with your permission. Pedestrians and bicyclists may also be covered under PIP if they are Florida residents and are injured as a result of a collision with a vehicle required to carry no fault insurance.

You are responsible for reporting the accident to your insurance carrier wherever an accident occurs and may be subject to criminal and/or civil liability in the location of the accident if you are at fault. If you are found guilty or in default of the suit outside of Florida, you may still be held liable in Florida and be subject to the consequences of the judgment depending on the type of the matter. For accidents that happen outside of Florida, but inside the United States or Canada, PIP insurance covers you and relatives who live in your home. In these cases, you must be driving your own vehicle. Persons other than you or your relatives are not covered.

Every owner or registrant of a motor vehicle in the State of Florida is required to purchase $10,000 of property damage liability insurance, as well as PIP insurance. A $30,000 combined limit of property damage and bodily injury liability is also a legal option. This coverage pays for damage you or members of your family may cause to other people’s property while driving. The term “property” may include a fence, telephone pole or building, as well as another car. Coverage applies even if you drive someone else’s car. Depending on the terms and conditions of your insurance policy, it may also include anyone else who uses your car with your permission.

Yes. The Department of Highway Safety is required to make the driving records of teens available for viewing by the parents or guardians of the minor via the internet, free of charge. The availability of free records to parents ceases after the minor becomes 18 years old.

Yes. It is unlawful for a person to willfully shine, point or focus a laser lighting device on an individual operating a motor vehicle, vessel, or aircraft.
For more information regarding driving, please visit the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website.

No, you cannot operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or texting or emailing on a wireless device, or while sending or reading data on such a device. This law was created to prevent car accidents resulting from texting while driving. Law enforcement officers can stop motor vehicles and issue citations as a primary offense to people who are texting while driving. “Primary offense” means a law enforcement officer can stop your vehicle if they suspect you are violating this law even if you aren’t violating any other traffic laws (such as speeding or reckless driving).

In 2019, a new law was implemented which prohibits using a wireless communications device (defined to include without limitation a cell phone, tablet, laptop, two-way messaging device or electronic game that is used or capable of being used in a handheld manner) in a handheld manner in any school crossing, school zone or work zone (when workers are present). A work zone is an area on any public highway or street where construction, repair, maintenance or other street work is being performed or where one or more lanes are closed to traffic.

The reporting of an emergency or criminal or suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities is one of the exceptions to this law.

Yes, a driver can receive messages related to the operation or navigation of the motor vehicle, safety-related information (such as emergency, traffic, or weather alerts), data used primarily by the motor vehicle, or radio broadcasts.

This law is intended to improve highway safety by prohibiting nonvoice wireless communication. Using voice commands which do not require manual entry of text or the reading of text messages, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function, is not prohibited by this law.

The law requires an officer to inform you of your right to decline a search of your wireless device. If you decline, the officer may not access your device without first obtaining a search warrant from a judge, nor may the officer confiscate your device while waiting to obtain a warrant to access it. The officer is not allowed to obtain your consent to access your device by coercion or other improper methods. Your consent for a law enforcement officer to search your device must be “voluntary and unequivocal”.

In the event of a crash resulting in death or personal injury, the billing records for your wireless communications device, or the testimony of or written statements from appropriate authorities receiving such messages, may be admissible as evidence in any proceeding to determine if you were texting while driving in violation of the law at the time of the accident.

A violation of the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law is a noncriminal traffic infraction punishable as a nonmoving violation. However, a second or subsequent violation within 5 years after the date of a prior violation is punishable as a moving violation.

Any violation of the new law (§316.306, Fla. Stat.) is a noncriminal traffic infraction punishable as a moving violation and results in the assessment of 3 points against your driver’s license. First time offenders may elect to participate in a wireless communications device driving safety program after which any penalties and costs may be waived and the assessment of points must be waived. If you are a first-time offender and provide the clerk of court with proof of purchase of equipment enabling your wireless device to be used in a hands-free manner, the clerk may dismiss the case and assess court costs for a nonmoving infraction.

A court appearance is not generally required for a violation of this law, but any other offense for which you are also cited may require you to appear in court. Always read any traffic citation carefully and consult an attorney if you are unsure of your rights and obligations.

Good question. In general, a person is considered to be “operating” a motor vehicle simply by being in actual physical control of the vehicle, whether it is moving or not. But for purposes of this law, a motor vehicle that is stationary is not being operated and is therefore not subject to the prohibitions of this law.

In order to deter improper racial or ethnic “profiling”, the law now requires a law enforcement officer to record the race and ethnicity of the violator on any citation for violation of Sections 316.305 or 316.306. Law enforcement agencies are required to maintain this information and report it to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which will send the reported data to the Governor and State Legislature on an annual basis.

The current legal drinking age in Florida is 21.

Drinking alcohol is a privilege regulated by state law. The Florida Legislature has the power to determine who may legally drink alcoholic beverages, and under what conditions. The Florida Legislature has determined that the legal drinking age, in Florida, is 21. It is a crime to possess or drink alcohol, if you are not 21.

Driving while under the influence of alcoholic beverages or a controlled substance (D.U.I.) is one of the most serious traffic violations an individual can commit, and is a crime.

Immediately after your arrest, you will most likely be subject to the “implied consent” law. As a condition of having the privilege to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Florida, you have agreed to take a chemical test if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe you are under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or controlled substance. Depending on the facts leading to your arrest, the police may request a breath test, urine test, or blood test to find out how much alcohol or what kind of drugs are in your bloodstream. You do not have the right to have an attorney present when you take such a test. You do have the right to have a second test administered by a physician or a laboratory technician of your choice; however, the second test must be paid for by you. If you test above the legal breath/blood alcohol limit of .08 (DUBAL- “driving with unlawful breath/blood alcohol level”), your license will be suspended for 6 months for a first DUBAL offense, or 1 year for a second or more time. If you refuse to take the requested test, your driver’s license will be suspended for a period of 1 year for a first refusal and 18 months if your driving privilege has been previously suspended for refusing to submit to such a test. A suspension imposed under the “implied consent” law (an administrative suspension) starts on the date of arrest and is completely separate from the criminal court case.

In addition, refusing to submit to a test for the second time is actually a crime itself. You do have the right to challenge an administrative suspension, but the request must be made within 10 days from the date of your arrest to Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

If you are convicted of D.U.I., you are subject to heavy penalties. These penalties include possible imprisonment of up to 6 months, a loss of your driver’s license for up to 1 year (this license revocation is different than the suspension for DUBAL or refusing a test, and starts the date of conviction), a fine up to $1,000 in addition to court costs, completion of a substance abuse course, 50 hours of community service, and the vehicle you were driving must be impounded. The penalties are even more serious if your blood alcohol level was .15 or higher or if there were passengers in the vehicle under the age of 18 years old. In some circumstances where a person has previous DUI convictions, or causes death or serious bodily injury to another person, then they will be charged with a felony, and could face prison time and a permanent loss of driver’s license.

Due to the consequences of a DUI arrest and conviction, you may want to immediately consult with an attorney for advice regarding your case and defenses, and determine if you are eligible for a “business purposes only” permit, which allows for specified restricted driving during a suspension or revocation.

Maybe, but it depends on the facts surrounding the DUI arrest.

Section 316.1933, Florida Statutes, requires a person to submit to a blood test where an officer has probable cause (enough evidence to make a reasonable person believe a crime has been committed) to believe that a motor vehicle driven by someone, who is under the influence of alcohol or certain controlled substances, has caused the death or “serious bodily injury” of a human being. “Serious bodily injury” means an injury to any person, including the driver, which consists of a physical condition that creates a substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ. This law specifically allows law enforcement to use reasonable force, if necessary, to require such person to submit to the administration of the blood test. Under this law, officers are not allowed to personally draw blood; only qualified hospital staff can do this. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police need to obtain a search warrant to obtain a blood draw for D.U.I. arrests unless there is a justified emergency (“exigent circumstances”). For example, a later Florida court ruling has found an emergency justifying a forced blood draw, when an arrested defendant was taken to the hospital after being involved in an accident causing “serious bodily injury” to another, and law enforcement had concern that the blood alcohol level would decrease before a breath test could be given- evidence for a serious offense would be lost. This is why the facts of a DUI arrest control whether the police can force a person to give a blood sample.

The police may also request a blood sample from a person being treated at a hospital, if the police have probable cause to believe the person was driving under the influence of alcohol, and the police believe giving the person a breath test is impossible. This is not a forced blood draw; but this is a police request under Florida’s “implied consent” law. If the person refuses the request, his/her license will be suspended for 1 year, or 18 months if he/she has refused a test before.

It is unlawful for any person to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage while operating a vehicle or while a passenger in or on a vehicle being operated. Any operator of a vehicle who violates this law is guilty of a noncriminal moving traffic violation and will be fined. A passenger of a vehicle who violates this law is also guilty of a noncriminal nonmoving traffic violation and will also be fined.

If you are intoxicated and in a vehicle with the keys, the vehicle does NOT have to be running for you to be charged with D.U.I. Actual physical control can be established where a person is in a vehicle with the means to drive, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion or even running. There are many cases where individuals have been charged with and convicted of D.U.I. for sleeping in a car.

Generally, a traffic stop is considered reasonable – and therefore legal – if police: 1) have a legitimate reason (called “reasonable suspicion”) for stopping the motorist in the first place, and 2) conduct the roadside detention in a reasonable manner. Officers cannot randomly engage in random stops of drivers to check licenses and registrations. A police officer also must only detain you during a traffic stop for a reasonable amount of time to issue a citation.

In 1990, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), that sobriety checkpoints, also called DUI roadblocks, are permitted. The Florida Supreme Court established standards for this procedure in State v. Jones, 483 So. 2d 433 (Fla. 1986). Law enforcement officials must conduct sobriety checkpoints so as to minimize the discretion of field officers. Written guidelines should cover in detail the procedures that field officers are to follow at the roadblock, and police should provide both proper lighting and sufficient warning on the roadway in advance of the stop.

Generally, no. However, the police are allowed to search your car without a search warrant if there is probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime or contraband located in your car. The scope of a warrantless search of an automobile is defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found. For example: An officer pulls you over for speeding. You roll down your window and the odor or marijuana is apparent to the officer. The officer may now search your vehicle without a warrant based on the plain smell of the marijuana. The officer may search any place where the marijuana may be found which includes the center console, glove box, the trunk of the vehicle, and even any bag in the vehicle that is large enough to hold marijuana.