An Overview of How Texas Deals with Cell Phone Use While Driving

An Overview of How Texas Deals with Cell Phone Use While Driving

June 5, 2019

As of September 1, 2017, the state of Texas now treats the use of cell phones while behind the wheel much more seriously than it once did. Now, it is completely illegal for people behind the wheel to use any written communications while driving, including texting, social media and messaging apps and emails.

With this, Texas became just the latest of many states to implement an all-out ban on texting while driving. The law doesn’t just bar writing and sending text messages, either—it also forbids reading them. Talking on the phone is still allowed, unless you’re in an active school zone.

The state did not, however, completely ban the use of cell phones altogether while behind the wheel. Drivers can still use phones to make hands-free calls, to stream music to their stereos, to use the GPS functionality, to seek emergency aid or to report a crime.

Background of the legislation

The ban on texting while driving came in the wake of a large increase in distracted driving accidents and fatalities in Texas. In 2015, there were 3,477 people killed and 391,000 injured in motor vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers across the United States, both of which represented increases over previous years, and the same trend had held true in Texas as well.

A person ticketed for texting while driving faces a misdemeanor charge and fines of $25 to $99, with repeat offenders potentially being fined as much as $200. In addition, anyone convicted in court of texting while driving causing serious injury or death to another person faces fines of up to $4,000 and a year in jail.

The state previously had laws in place barring texting while driving in school zones, as well as bans on minors texting while driving and bus drivers texting while transporting minor passengers. The new legislation eliminates any exceptions to put an all-out ban on texting while driving.

There were already some localities across the state that had taken it upon themselves to put local laws and ordinances into place barring texting while driving, but now those rules apply statewide. In Arlington, texting while driving has been illegal since 2012. That first year, police wrote 73 texting while driving citations. That number increased to 104 in 2016.

When looking out for drivers who are texting behind the wheel, police tend to look for many of the same things they look for with drunk drivers, including driving slowly, weaving in and out of traffic and making quick adjustments in the lane. They might also simply see someone looking at their phone.

Officers are not allowed to inspect a driver’s phone while they’ve pulled them over, but could subpoena the person’s texting history if the case ends up going to court.

For more information about how the state now handles the issue of texting while driving in Texas, contact The Law Office of Rob Biggers to speak with a criminal attorney in Lubbock, TX. We look forward to helping you better understand the law.

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