“I know I shouldn’t but…it won’t happen to me,” many people are guilty of thinking in some aspect of our lives. In Texas more and more people are finding out that it can, and does, “happen to them” regarding cell phones. We’re talking about looking down at that most amazing, all-purpose electronic device that is rarely out of reach, even while driving. The times, they are a changing and it’s up to drivers in Texas to know the rules of the road both statewide and locally.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Talk. Text. Crash. Campaign” press release*, Texans have not been changing their behaviors with cell phones in their vehicles (even though a state law went into effect Sept. 1, 2017, prohibiting drivers from reading, writing or sending electronic messages on mobile phones while driving). In fact, TxDOT says in 2018, there were still 540,561 motor vehicle crashes on Texas roadways of which 95,572 (18%), were caused by distracted driving (driver distraction, inattention or cell phone use). The 95,572 distracted driving crashes resulted in 394 deaths and 2,340 serious injuries. Significant numbers to be sure; in fact, they say texting while driving makes car accidents 23 times more likely to occur.
If that doesn't get your attention, according to '#EndTheStreakTX' (a broad grassroots effort that encourages drivers to make safer choices while behind the wheel), "Since Nov. 8, 2000, at least one person has died on Texas roadways every single day."*
Texas is currently working on setting up stricter distracted driving laws. According to TxDOT it’s also important to note that many local areas and cities have already passed stricter laws that completely limit any cell phone use while driving. In other words, you cannot touch your cell while driving (they’re called “hands-free” ordinances). Important note: it’s the driver’s responsibility to know the laws in their local areas. Texting while driving within the state of Texas is punishable by a fine of $25-$99 for first-time offenders then $100-$200 for repeat offenders. The new law also states that if an accident caused by texting and driving results in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year (in addition to any other charges/punishments).
Besides the laws, Texas is working to increase awareness. They held their Heads Up, Texas Campaign in June, 2019 with the goal of educating Texans on the dangers and risks of distracted driving while raising awareness of state laws. There was also an overall goal to reduce crashes and save lives. The campaign included activities addressing and discouraging all forms of distracted driving.
Texas laws are cracking down on cell phone use while driving and all distracted driving. Before September 2017, state laws only prevented texting while driving in school zones and by drivers younger than 18 and bus drivers transporting minors. Then on Sept. 1, 2017, the Texas Legislature officially made it illegal to text while driving under House Bill 62. Under this Texas law, texting while driving and the use of portable wireless devices to read, write, or send electronic messages, while operating a vehicle, is now prohibited (it did not preempt existing state laws). Another bill, Senate Bill 43, was recently under consideration that would only let Texas drivers use their hands to turn on or off their phones; no more typing addresses, choosing which songs to play, dialing phone numbers or holding the phone, even to talk, when behind the wheel. It was introduced by Sen. Judith Zaffirini. Any drivers caught using their cell phones without hands-free devices could receive a ticket and a to-be-determined fine. They trend is stricter guidelines as the issues continue.
Everyone knows you’re not supposed to text and drive (or have any distractions for that matter). Driving is serious business but we take it for granted. A 5 second glance to check that message that could have waited could have serious consequences for yourself and others. Bouncing off guard rails, slamming under a semi, rear-ending a new high-end vehicle, or (worse) hitting a pedestrian or biker could have repercussions for life (in addition to possibly incurring fines or jail time). Texas is cracking down! So are many other states. Perhaps it will get drivers’ attention before they must learn the hard way. It is our hope.
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