Driving While Texting (Things to Know)
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.
How the process goes
For a person flagged down after violating the new law, the biggest relief is that the police officer won’t inspect the phone upfront. However, the court can issue a subpoena summoning the involved motorist to submit a history of his or her texting history. This is to show whether they are texting or not during the apprehension.
But for the law enforcers, this process is quite hard to follow. It’s almost impossible to acquire the records from the wireless network provider for every person violating the law. They will also tap the help of a car accident attorney Austin. Also, violations of this kind don’t add points to the driver’s license. This means they are not going to pay any additional surcharge for the offense.
Accidents related to distracted driving
According to a 2015 research, about 48,000 Americans get involved in fatal crashes every year. About 10% of these cases are related to distraction. Take note that whenever a driver texts, reads messages or uses hand-held phones, they take their vision off the road for at least five seconds.
Collectively, distractions like these add up to the reason why 3,500 road fatalities occur each year with almost 400,000 people getting injured. Also, experts say that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash when he or she is texting while driving. Aside from hiring a personal injury lawyer Austin, TX the hassle is more evident on the damages and lives lost.
Based on the same study, distracted driving-related accidents are prominent among ages 15-19. And with anti-distracted driving laws in place, it’s seen to reduce accidents by up to 11% for roughly the same age bracket.
Although there are some flaws with anti-texting while driving laws, it surely comes with some benefits.
Status of enforcement
The question is this: how does the law fares in enforcement a year after it is enacted? According to police data, about 1,195 tickets and more than 4,000 warnings were issued to drivers.
And true enough, about 97% of drivers admit that they know the dangers of texting and driving. But if you think it’s enough to stop them, you’re wrong. One in every five motorists will still read and send text messages while on the wheel.
Enforcers clarified that even though texting is a no-no while driving, you can still listen to music, use GPS, seek emergency or a report a crime as long as the phone doesn’t block or take your eyes off the road.
What law enforcers have to say
Even with the good intentions of the law, Texas enforcers are having a big dilemma. The law just made it harder for them to stop people from using their mobile phones.
Take note that it’s not illegal in Texas to use your phone for music, GPS, and other stuff. So aside from flagging you down for using your phone, the officer has to check your intent. In short, they have to prove that you are actually texting. This boils down to the excruciating process of issuing subpoenas, court proceedings, and dealing with a personal injury lawyer Austin, TX.
But like anything else, this Texas law has its pros and cons. The coming years can be spent fine-tuning its provisions.
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