After months of debate and years of misfires, Texas finally has a statewide law banning texting while driving. Specifically, House Bill 62 says:
An operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.
The new law also specifies a fine of up to $99 for a first time offender, and up to $200 for someone who is caught texting while driving multiple times. Although the law was signed by Governor Greg Abbott earlier this month, it will not actually go into effect until September 1st.
This statewide texting ban has been a long time coming. Not only did all but three other states already have similar laws, Texas itself even nearly passed a texting while driving ban twice before. Once in 2011 where then Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill out of concern that it amounted to micromanaging adult drivers. A similar bill nearly made it into law in 2013, but did not manage to make it out of the Senate Transport Committee. Again, in 2015, the Texas House approved a bill but the Texas Senate failed to pass its own version, so the proposed law died.
Critics of this new texting while driving ban claim that it will be hard to enforce because an officer must see someone using their phone to cite them, but this is not a new concept. Already, it was illegal to use a cellphone while in a school zone. And, of course, regulations requiring everyone in a car to wear their seatbelt or follow speed limits have been around for decades. Ultimately, like any law regulating what we do in our vehicles, this new statewide ban on texting while driving will not catch every individual who breaks it. But, over time, news that it can cost up to $200 to have your phone out while driving will spread and help make our roads a safer place.
While this new law is a large step forward for keeping Texas roads safe, it’s not the end of the battle. Texting while driving is only one form of the larger problem of Distracted Driving which kills well over 400 people in Texas each year. Texting may be one of the most distracting things one can do while driving, but study after study has shown that talking on a cellphone while driving is a major distraction that is just as dangerous as texting while driving. Just being aware that talking on a phone is dangerous, even when using a hands-free system, is dangerous can help save lives.