Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that his predecessor vetoed back in 2011. Starting on Sept. 1, it will now be illegal for drivers all over Texas to text while behind the wheel.
He informed the legislature also that when they meet on July 18 when the special legislative session begins, he expects an amendment to the bill that will ensure no municipal laws negate the statewide ban.
“I signed it into law today to ensure Texas is doing all it can to prevent accidents caused by texting while driving,” Abbott stated during a news conference.
The bill prohibits drivers from texting while their vehicles are in motion. Violations will be misdemeanors for first offenses and carry penalties ranging from $25-$99. Penalties could rise up to $200 for repeat offenders.
The proposed ban will crack down on distracted drivers who put Texans at risk of injuries and deaths. In 2016, over 3,000 individuals suffered serious injuries, and another 455 were killed as a result of distracted driving. According to the state Department of Transportation’s executive director, “These crashes are highest among young drivers.”
Data from the analysis of House Bill 62 indicates that 40 percent of drivers age 19 to 39 admit to texting and driving. It states that research has shown drivers’ reaction times are cut by half when they get distracted reading and sending text messages. Drivers while texting avert their eyes from the road for 4.6 seconds on average in a six-second interval. That’s as long as it takes to travel 300 yards of a football field doing 55 miles per hour.
One Houston mom can attest to the dangers of using cellphones while driving. In 2016, she lost two teen daughters in a Spring Break collision when their vehicle collided with an 18-wheeler because of a texting driver.
The new ban doesn’t do away with all cellphone usage, however. After Sept. 1, drivers will still be able to chat on their phones behind the wheel if they use hands-free devices. Then they only need to briefly touch their phones at the beginning and end of calls. The law also doesn’t prohibit use of music apps on phones or the use GPS navigation systems.
Drivers would not be in violation if they were attempting to summon help in emergencies, reporting illegal activities, communicating with dispatchers or reading texts that they “reasonably believed concerned an emergency” behind the wheel.
Texas is one of only four states that don’t already have statewide bans against texting while driving, the National Conference of State Legislatures announced.
Nobody wants their civil liberties to be infringed, but the safety of the public must be balanced against these challenges. If you are injured due to an irresponsible and negligent texting driver, whether they are ticketed or not, you have the right to seek financial redress through the Texas civil courts.