Texas finally became the 47th state to pass a ban on texting while driving two weeks ago.
But for many of us, stringent restrictions on texting have been in place for years.
102 cities got tired waiting for state lawmakers to get on board with the rest of the country and passed their own cell phone ordinances.
In our DFW area, Arlington, Bedford, Grand Prairie, Hurst, Watauga, White Settlement, and other cities cracked down on negligent drivers. Arlington, for example, did this back in 2011.
That’s because it was obvious that texting while driving caused an obscene number of deaths and personal injuries. It is the number one cause, greater than driving while intoxicated and speeding combined.
In Texas last year, texting caused 455 people to lose their lives and over 3,000 others to be seriously injured — and those are just the cases where the police could get the at-fault driver to admit he or she was texting.
Here in Tarrant County, 22 drivers died and 236 suffered serious injuries. That’s maddening, right? Especially if you’ve been crashed into by someone texting.
Ironically, many Texans may see their local laws weakened now that the state has belatedly tiptoed into this important safety issue.
That’s because Governor Abbott has called a special legislative session in a few weeks. On the agenda is a law that will make the state’s anti-texting law supersede the stronger local laws that these cities and counties have on the books.
For example, if your city currently prohibits talking on the phone, that dangerous activity will now be legal. If you drive through Dallas – Fort Worth or another place without any law in place, the only thing new will be that you can’t send, read or type a text.
But that’s only if a police officer actually sees you doing that. Fat chance of that happening.
New texting while driving law does not go far enough
As an accident lawyer who regularly sees the disastrous results of distracted driving, I am frustrated that our lawmakers passed such a weak version of what should have been a pivotal law. If the state can’t do enough to protect residents, cities should not be denied this opportunity.
What does the law say? And what should it say to truly be effective?
First, the fines are insufficient to deter texters. A first time offender is subject to a traffic citation starting at only $25. That’s nothing these days. The fine for a repeat offense is more appropriate — $100 to $200 — but the chances of getting a second ticket are slim.
The statute otherwise leaves a huge loophole that needs to be corrected in by future legislation. Not putting an end to the dangerous habit of talking on the phone while driving makes no sense. I urge lawmakers to continue fighting for provisions that govern other uses of electronic devices, in addition to the anti-texting law that takes effect this September 1st. And at the least, don’t stop our cities from protecting drivers.
Enforcing texting while driving laws
Enforcement in cities that already have texting bans has been challenging, which might explain the low numbers of citations issued in Arlington. In the five year period between 2012 and 2016, only 400 tickets were issued for texting while driving. Considering that 660,000 people are using their phones in any given moment during the day, surely more than 400 people were sending and receiving text messages on the road.
Enforcement was better in Arlington school zones, where 1,393 drivers received traffic tickets for using their cell phones within a school zone during the same period.
The very fact that the conduct is illegal will deter some drivers from texting. It will lend credence to a parent’s insistence that his or her teen not text and drive. Courts and insurance companies are also more likely to treat texting while driving as an act of negligence when a crash occurs. An injury lawyer can then use that to his client’s advantage.
Hopefully lawmakers will listen to their constituents and strengthen the laws. They need to provide the funding necessary for the equipment, police training and enforcement necessary to put teeth into the legislation, not just sugar coat it.