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Rubio's Anti-Bernie Rant May Have Violated Florida's Law Against Texting While Driving

If Rubio had been pulled over, he could've been fined $30 for a first offense.EXPAND
If Rubio had been pulled over, he could've been fined $30 for a first offense.
Screenshot via Marco Rubio / Twitter

Update, 8:45 p.m.: After this story was published, Rubio tweeted that he was actually in California while filming the rant and had his phone on a hands-free car mount. Distracted driving, however, is also illegal in that state and still punishable via ticket.

Sure, the hypothetical threat of a bunch of angry Trotskyists marching through the streets, burning down buildings, and beheading enemies sounds scary. But it's not quite as imminently dangerous as the actual threat of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio staring into his phone's camera and screaming about Bernie Sanders while driving an automobile.

Over the weekend, Sanders won the Nevada caucuses and cemented himself as the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination later this year. In response, Rubio today went a rant about the dangers of Sanders' self-professed "democratic socialism" while operating a moving vehicle in what is possibly a violation of Florida's new ban on texting while driving.

"The bottom line is unless the Democratic establishment steals it from him, Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, is going to be the Democratic nominee for president," Rubio said while driving a car through what is all but certainly his home state of Florida. "And that's a really big deal because democratic socialism sounds benign, but at the core, democratic socialism is Marxism."

This past January 1, it became illegal for Floridians to use their phones to "operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, emailing, and instant messaging."

Though the law does not explicitly state drivers cannot record themselves ranting into their phones while driving, it certainly seems like it was designed to prevent this sort of thing. Throughout the video, Rubio clearly takes his eyes off the road and stares at the camera. (This is also not the first time his driving record has come under scrutiny. In 2015, the New York Times reported he had been issued four traffic tickets since 1997, and his wife Jeanette had received 13.)

The new law allows cops to pull over anyone they see using a "wireless communication device" while their car is in motion. Officers can then ask to inspect a driver's phone to see why they were using it, but drivers are allowed to decline the search.

The law, confusingly, contains some carveouts that might leave a loophole for drivers to take videos of themselves while operating a moving vehicle. The law allows drivers to talk on speakerphone, for example. And motorists are not considered in violation of the law if they are "conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require manual entry of multiple letters, numbers, or symbols, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function" or "conducting wireless interpersonal communication that does not require reading text messages, except to activate, deactivate, or initiate a feature or function." Those exemptions seem to be designed to let people make or answer phone calls on the road.

It's not entirely clear whether the law considers ranting into a camera like a divorced dad complaining that his children won't talk to him about QAnon more like texting or talking on the phone while driving. Spokespeople for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) did not immediately respond to messages today, although an assistant directed New Times to the agency's webpage about distracted driving. Rubio's spokespeople also did not respond to a message from New Times.

A spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Police Department, meanwhile, said the agency could not comment.

"Unfortunately, without having all of the facts surrounding the incident, we cannot provide you an accurate response," spokesperson Alvaro Zabaleta said.

Rubio himself might believe what he did was legal, but online commentators noticed his actions could have at least gotten him pulled over under the new law. Juan Escalante, a Florida activist for civil and human rights, said on Twitter today that Florida immigrants are likely being deported thanks to the new distracted-driving ban that Rubio now seems to be flouting so he can scream about leftism while on his way to play tennis with a lobbyist for a company that makes land mines (or wherever Rubio was going today).

If Rubio had been pulled over, he could've been slapped with a $30 ticket for a first offense and a $60 fine plus three points on his license for a second offense within five years.

The FLHSMV's page about distracted driving, for the record, notes that "anything that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, or mind off driving" is "extremely risky behavior that puts everyone on the road in danger."

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