Texting while driving has become a pervasive problem in the United States. Motorists who use cell phones while operating a motor vehicle have a higher risk of involvement in an accident than drivers who don’t, whether holding the phone or using a hands-free device. Texas law enforcement authorities reported that as many as 1/5 of the 3,700+ deaths on Texas roads in 2016 were caused by distracted driving.
On September 1, 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed Texas House Bill 62 which made it illegal in Texas to read, write, or send electronic messages while driving. Drivers may text if the vehicle is stopped or if an emergency exists. The bill defines an electronic message as “data that is read from or entered into a wireless communication device for the purpose of communicating with another person.”
Prior efforts to enact similar legislation were unsuccessful under Governor Rick Perry who thought any law related to this issue would be “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” A bill similar to HB 62 introduced by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, failed in 2015.
Many Texas municipalities have local ordinances that ban more than texting, typically all use of a hand-held device by a driver in the act of operating a motor vehicle. It is illegal everywhere in Texas for an individual operating a motor vehicle to use a hand-held phone in an active school crossing zone. Also, it is illegal for a licensed driver under 18, which would include 16-year-old and 17-year-old drivers as well as those with learner’s permits, to use a phone while driving anywhere in the state.
Since 2009, close to a hundred Texas municipalities and towns have enacted some type of legislation limiting cell phone use. Many of these jurisdictions have passed stricter ordinances which completely limit any cell phone use while driving, thus Texas motorists have the responsibility of familiarizing themselves with the laws in areas that they most frequent.
In August of 2014, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal within the Austin city limits to operate a moving motor vehicle or even a bicycle while using a hand-held phone to talk, listen, type, read, watch a video or play a game. The Austin law went into effect on January 1, 2015. The Austin law imposes fines and court costs as high as $219 while the new state law imposes a fine of up to $99 for the first offense.
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