As of September 1, 2017, texting behind the wheel is illegal in Texas. Specifically, the law states that drivers may not read, write, or send electronic messages while driving. This new law comes on the heels of a staggering number of distracted driving-related accidents in Texas during the previous year. In 2016, there were 109,658 distracted driving accidents resulting in 455 deaths and more than 3,000 severe injuries. It’s essential for all drivers to acknowledge the risks of texting behind the wheel and other forms of distracted driving.
Penalties for Texting While Driving in Texas
A first offense for texting and driving in Texas can include a fine up to $99, and a second offense can incur a fine of up to $200. Some areas of Texas have even stricter laws, and the only exceptions generally include emergency communication or sending electronic messages while stopped. More than 90 Texas cities have adopted specific ordinances, so it’s essential for all drivers to know the laws in their areas. A police officer may conduct a traffic stop if he or she observes a driver texting while driving or engaging in other distracting behaviors.
While these penalties may not seem very harsh, they serve as an important deterrent against distracted driving on Texas roads. A distracted driver who looks at a cell phone for just a few seconds is essentially driving blind. At high speeds, this could mean traveling one hundred yards in the time it takes to read a text message.
Why is Texting Behind the Wheel So Dangerous?
There are three main types of distractions behind the wheel, including:
- Manual distractions or any actions that require a driver to move his or her hands away from the vehicle controls. Manual distractions include things like eating, adjusting the stereo or air conditioning, rummaging for items in a bag or inside the vehicle, or anything else that diverts the driver’s hands away from the vehicle controls.
- Visual distractions or anything that draws a driver’s eyes off the road ahead. Visual distractions may include roadside attractions or events like police activity, looking in a vehicle mirror, “rubbernecking” to look at a nearby crash scene or other incidents, or anything else that draws the driver’s eyes away from the road.
- Cognitive distractions or anything that preoccupies a driver’s mind while driving. Humans are very visual creatures, and the brain may not fully process visual information if the mind is busy thinking about something else.
Texting behind the wheel is dangerous because it essentially encompasses all three of these distractions in one action. The driver must use at least one hand to type a message, his or her eyes to read the screen, and the driver will be thinking about the conversation rather than the road.
Best Practices to Avoid Texting and Driving Accidents
Texas law already bans the use of cell phones for the first six months a driver obtains his or her learner’s permit, and drivers under the age of 18 may not use any wireless communication devices behind the wheel. Drivers must also refrain from cell phone use within school zones. Adults may have the ability to use cell phones while stopped, but a few best practices can make traveling even safer.
A driver should turn off his or her cell phone or set it to silent while driving. Unless a driver is expecting important news, such as a spouse going into labor, there is no good reason to keep a phone set to ring or vibrate while driving. If a driver needs to make a call or must answer a text message, the driver should pull off the road and park somewhere safe to do so. Parents should ensure their teen drivers understand the severe risks of texting behind the wheel and encourage them to form good habits as early as possible.