Effective September 1, 2017, it will be illegal to simultaneously text and drive in the Lone Star State. "But I thought that was already illegal!" you may be thinking. While many cities in Texas passed local laws in the past banning texting and driving, there has previously been no statewide law banning the practice. Additionally, the legislature has twice attempted to pass similar bills in the past, but one was vetoed by then-governor Perry and the other was stalled by the Senate Transportation Committee. Prior to the new bill's effective date, Texas had the following statewide restrictions in place:
1. Drivers with learner's permits are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving.
2. Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communications devices.
3. School bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present.
4. In school zones, all drivers are prohibited from texting and using handheld devices while driving.
Just how dangerous is "txting" & "drvng"?
The new law is the latest attempt to cut down on accidents involving distracted driving. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, one in five crashes involves distracted driving. According to the Bill Analysis promulgated by the Senate Research Center, forty percent of people between 19 and 39 years of age admit to texting while driving, and ten percent of them say they do it regularly. Text messaging while driving creates a crash risk 23 times higher than driving while not distracted. The law is alternatively entitled the "Alex Brown Memorial Act," in memory of a seventeen year old Tarrant County girl who died in a crash while texting.
What does the new law ban exactly? What if I break the new law?
The law makes it an offense for a driver to "use a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped." An offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of at least $25 and not more than $99, unless the offender has been convicted of a violation previously (then the fine increases to $100-200).
The law carves out exceptions if the device is used:
1. in conjunction with a hands-free device ;
2. to navigate using a global positioning system or navigation system;
3. to report illegal activity, summon emergency help, or enter information into a software application that provides information relating to traffic and road conditions to users of the application;
4. to read an electronic message that the person reasonably believed concerned an emergency; and
5. To activate a function that plays music.
The law, which can be found in its entirety here, still allows drivers to make phone calls on speakerphone, play music, and use GPS functions. It seems that the legislature attempted to narrowly tailor the law to specifically ban texting, emailing and web-browsing while driving, and not many of the other functions for which motorists use their phones while driving.
Hopefully the new law saves lives that would otherwise be endangered by distracted driving. Peace officers across the state will likely be educated about the new law and will have a revived awareness about where drivers are looking while on the road. Ignorance regarding the new law's existence will not excuse breaking it.
If you are injured by a distracted driver, you should seek medical attention and contact an attorney immediately.