Distracted driving is a serious issue in Florida, as evidenced by more than 50,000 crashes involving distracted drivers in 2018, which accounted for 233 deaths. The safest Florida counties with the fewest crashes per resident, however, tended to hand out more citations, suggesting effective law enforcement may incentivize safe driving behavior.
5 worst counties for distracted driving in Florida
1. Bay County
6.04 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents
Bay County, home to Panama City in the Panhandle, ranks as the worst county in Florida for distracted driving. In 2018, there were 1,010 total distracted driving-related accidents, or 6.04 crashes per 1,000 residents — more than double the Florida average of 2.46.
2. Orange County
5.35 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents
Orange County is home to the city of Orlando and its many theme parks — which include Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld Orlando. In 2018, 26 deaths in Orange County had resulted from distracted driving crashes — the most fatalities of any county in Florida.
3. Okaloosa County
5.31 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents
Okaloosa County is located in northwestern Florida and shares a border with Walton County, which ranked as the sixth-worst county in Florida for distracted driving. In 2018, just 14 citations were issued for distracted driving in Okaloosa County, despite more than 1,000 crashes involving a distracted driver.
4. Monroe County
5.14 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents
Monroe County includes the Florida Keys and is seated in Key West. Among midsize counties in Florida, Monroe had both the highest number of fatalities and the highest ratio of convictions to crashes in 2018.
5. Osceola County
4.97 distracted driving crashes per 1,000 residents
As part of the metropolitan area of Orlando, Osceola County is adjacent to and immediately south of Orange County, which had the second-highest rate of distracted driving crashes by population. In addition to its high rate of distracted driving accidents, Osceola witnessed 13 distracted driving-related fatalities in 2018, or the fourth most of any county in Florida.
Complete list of counties in Florida and their distracted driving rankings
Citations per 100 crashes
Crashes per 1,000 residents
Safest counties for distracted driving crashes
The safest counties in Florida, which had lower rates of distracted driving-related crashes, tended to give out more citations to residents.
Miami-Dade County, for example, which had the lowest ratio of crashes per resident among large Florida counties, had the highest rate of citations per crash in the state — handing out 25.2 citations per 100 distracted driving crashes. The Florida median was three citations per 100 crashes.
Indian River, the safest midsize county in Florida by crashes per resident, similarly handed out more citations than any of its peers, at 15 citations per 100 distracted driving-related accidents.
Distracted driving laws in Florida
Distracted driving laws in Florida were, until recently, relatively lax compared to the rest of the country. Following passage of Florida statute 316.305, or the Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law, in 2019, texting while driving is now considered a primary offense.
Florida drivers are not permitted to operate a registered motor vehicle while manually typing or entering characters into a wireless communication device, or while reading data off such a device.
The law went into effect January 1, 2020. As a primary offense, police officers can now pull over individuals texting while driving and issue them a citation for this reason alone. Previously, texting while driving was only a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement could only issue citations if drivers were pulled over for another primary offense, such as speeding, and happened to be texting as well.
While Florida drivers are permitted to hold their phones to talk while driving, it is not recommended and there are some exceptions. As of October 1, 2019, Florida drivers are prohibited from holding their mobile devices in their hands in school zones, as well as active work zones. As a result, drivers in these areas shouldn't hold their cell phones for calls, navigation assistance, texting or any other activity that violates the new statute.
Consequences for texting and driving in Florida
A driver's first texting and driving citation will come with a fine of $30. While this fee might seem low, violators' car insurance rates may increase significantly if subsequent violations appear on their driving record.
For additional texting and driving violations within five years, the fine increases to $60-$100 and it's treated as a moving violation. Court fees, assessments and taxes may also increase the total fees violators pay. That results in three points on a driver's license, similar to speeding violations of over 15 miles per hour over the speed limit. Points will stay on Florida licenses for three years.
To compare distracted driving across counties in Florida, we collected 2018 distracted driver crash and citation data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. We compared distracted driving crashes to U.S. Census data across all Florida counties. By our definition, large counties have populations of over 300,000 residents, midsize counties have populations of 50,000-299,000 residents and small counties have populations of less than 49,999 residents.