NEW LAW – Texas Texting While Driving Ban
It is fairly common knowledge that texting while driving is dangerous. Distracted drivers are 23 times more likely to have a serious car crash. Distracted driving comes in many forms and causes driver inattention. Driver inattention results in serious injury and harm to many on the roadways.
In the 2017 Texas legislative session, House Bill 62 was signed by the Governor and it is now a violation of State law to use a portable device for electronic messaging.
What is Prohibited
HB 62 is a result of compromises among the various parties and factions within our legislature. The law makes it a violation of the Texas Transportation Code for a driver to “read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.
“Electronic message” is defined as data that is read from or entered into a wireless communication device for the purpose of communicating with another person.
Loopholes and Issues
While this sounds like a great law on its face, the new law also has built into it many “affirmative defenses,” or legal loopholes.
Must Be Caught in the Act: The new law requires that the officers not only witness a violator using his or her phone, but also must specifically identify that the person was in the act of texting.
Local Ordinances May be More Strict: The new law preempts any local ordinances passed by cities and municipalities that had weaker versions of the texting while driving bans. However, there are quite a few cities that have more strict versions of the ban already among their local laws (Ausin, San Antonio, Denton and El Paso, to name a few). HB 62 does not address these more strict laws and whether they are also preempted.
Still Can Use the Phone for Numerous Other Actions: The goal of any law must be safety. But, HB 62 carves out numerous exceptions. For instance, one can still make or receive phone calls as long as it is not prohibited by local ordinance. Drivers can still specifically use navigation features and music applications, and the law is silent on the use of internet browsers and communication applications.
Emergency Situations: Drivers can even text during “emergency situations” but the law does not clearly define what constitutes an emergency situation.
Workers working: Workers in the course of business are exempt from this new law if caught texting with a device that is affixed to the vehicle that is being used to communicate with a dispatcher or digital network.
It’s a Start
Leave it to a bunch of politicians to write a law that is as clear as mud. Even one of the co-authors of the legislation, Rep. Gene Wu, conceded that the law could have been tougher. Representative Wu summed up the law perfectly– “something is better than nothing.”
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