Texas police officers can pull people over and give them tickets for texting and driving. Those caught will face fines of up to $99 for a first offense and $200 for a second offense. The new law also states that if an accident caused by texting and driving results in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year, in addition to any other charges/punishments.
Advocates against handheld phone use say the new law will save the lives of both would-be distracted drivers, and the people they might have struck in accidents.
“The new law will help reduce crashes, save lives, and make Texas roads safer for everyone,” Kent Livesay, vice president and general manager of AAA Texas, said in a statement. “This new law will make travel safer for every Texan.”
Texas’ new ban is far from comprehensive. It outlaws reading, writing or sending a text message while driving. Other forms of hand-held phone use, such as using GPS maps, selecting songs on Spotify or making phone calls, are still legal, and receiving a citation for texting would not lead to points being placed on someone’s driver’s license, as it does when a person receives a citation for speeding.
Opponents of the bill have complained that it’s going to be hard for officers to tell the difference between legal and illegal phone use.
“I find it absolutely incredulous, except for Superman, who can tell what you are doing on your phone,” Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat, said during the debate over the bill. “I think this bill falls short of where this legislature can get to as far as texting and driving.”
While we can debate the effectiveness and enforceability of these distracted driving laws, these same arguments can be (and were) made with regard to seat belt laws emerging in the 1960s. Just because something is difficult to enforce, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the issue.
The author of Texas’ ban, longtime House member and former House Speaker Tom Craddick, began trying to ban texting and driving six years ago after a high school senior in his district died in a texting and driving accident. In 2011, Craddick’s bill passed the Texas House and Senate before Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it.
In Dallas, it isn’t clear how much the law will change the behavior of the city’s traffic officers. While the Dallas Police Department supported the legislature’s efforts to create a comprehensive texting and driving ban, Maj. Danny Williams said in March that DPD officers usually can pull over drivers distracted by phones for alternate reasons like impeding traffic by driving too slowly, failing to signal a lane change or following the car in front of them too closely.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, there were 109,658 traffic crashes in Texas alone that involved distracted driving, leading to over 3,000 serious injuries and at least 455 fatalities in 2016. In addition to the new texting ban, state law already banned handheld cellphone use in school zones. Drivers younger than 18 are also banned from using phones on the road. In 2016, The sobering truth is that texting while driving makes a car accident 23 times more likely to occur.
It is well known, if not common knowledge, that using a cell phone while driving is incredibly dangerous. Currently, at least 45 Texas cities have gone above and beyond by enacting more-strict hands-free ordinances within their jurisdictions. These cities include: Alice, Amarillo, Anthony, Aransas Pass, Argyle, Austin, Bedford, Bee Cave, Boerne, Buda, College Station, Corpus Christi, Deer Park, Denton, El Paso, Floresville, Garden Ridge, Hill Country Village, Hurst, Kingsville, Kyle, Lake Dallas, Lake Tanglewood, Lakeway, Laredo, Liberty Hill, Little Elm, Midlothian, Mont Belvieu, New Braunfels, Port Aransas, Rollingwood, San Antonio, San Juan, San Marcos, Schertz, Sinton, Socorro, Sugar Land, Sunset Valley, University City, Watauga, West Lake Hills, Wichita Falls, and Wimberley.