Following the lead of other states across the nation, Texas recently enacted a statewide texting-while-driving ban. As of Sept. 1, it is now illegal to text while driving in Texas. A number of cities had already passed distracted driving ordinances, but state lawmakers had struggled to get a law passed until Gov. Abbott signed the new law in June.
It's important to understand that each year thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries are caused by distracted driving nationwide. Now Texas law recognizes the dangers of texting behind the wheel.
Details of the new law
The law allows a police officer to stop a driver and give a ticket if the driver is seen using a handheld device while the vehicle is in operation. A violation could involve reading, writing or sending a text message while driving.
The penalty for the first offense is a $99 fine, and the second offense results in a $200 fine. The law is not comprehensive and does allow for some use of smartphones among drivers. A driver can use the phone for GPS purposes, to make a phone call and to change the song on a music playing app. The law against texting also does not assign points on the licenses of those commit violations.
The law also prohibits the use of handheld phones in a school zone, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using a phone while driving for any reason.
History of distracted driving legislation
The concept of a distracted driving law is not new in Texas. In 2011, a House member introduced similar legislation. Although the bill passed the House and the Senate at the time, the governor chose to veto the bill. The unfortunate death of a local teen due to distracted driving had inspired the previous version of the bill. This time, the measure passed without a hitch.
Before the law existed, a police officer was usually able to pull over a person distracted by a cellphone for other reasons. A person driving too slowly, swerving, failing to signal or following too closely can result in a traffic stop. Attentive police officers are always looking for ways to keep bad drivers off the road, and the new law helps.
Facts about distracted driving
Distracted driving kills. It's a fact. In 2016, 455 people died and thousands more were seriously injured because of distracted driving incidents in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. There is hope that the new law will reduce these numbers and make every driver, passenger and pedestrian safer on state roads and highways.