Texting while driving is about to become illegal in Texas.
State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland) authored House Bill 62. In a statement, Craddick commented: “I am pleased that Governor Abbott signed House Bill 62 and it will become law. By enacting this public safety legislation, the governor is saving lives by deterring this dangerous and deadly behavior.”
Craddock said that, for a long time, Texas has needed this kind of law “to prevent the loss of life in unnecessary and preventable crashes and we finally have it.” He added: “This delivers a strong message to Texas drivers to stop texting, put down their phone, and keep their eyes on the road. Like AT&T says: It can wait.”
Texas is one of the last states to legislate such a ban. It joins 47 others with similar laws that bar text messaging while driving. Under HB 62, drivers can no longer read, write, and send electronic messages while driving. Penalties for first time violators can range from $25 to $99 while repeat offenders may receive $200 fines. The ban only covers text messaging. It does not include other types of cell phone usage such as internet, GPS for navigation, or music programs.
Until now, Texas law only restricted cell phone use for drivers under the age of 18, drivers with learner’s permits, and bus drivers. The state also prohibits all drivers from cell phone use while driving through a school zone. Reportedly, more than 100 municipalities around the state have some form of a cell phone ordinance in place for drivers. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) lists many of them.
According to TxDOT, one in five automobile crashes involves distracted drivers. In 2016, this translated into 109,653 traffic accidents where more than 3,000 people were seriously injured and 454 died. This figure rose three percent from 2015. The department noted the highest number of distracted driving wrecks occurred with new and younger drivers ages 16 to 34. This summer, TxDOT rolls out a “Talk, Text, Crash” campaign.
The passage of HB 62 in the Texas Legislature followed a tragic March 29 San Antonio-area highway crash where the driver of a pickup truck admitted to checking for a text message before slamming his vehicle into a church retreat bus, killing the bus driver and 12 senior citizen passengers. The driver also said he took prescription drugs before the accident. Marijuana was found in the truck.
The state’s lawmakers, notably Craddick and state Senator Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), tried to pass similar bills in 2011, 2013, and 2015. In 2011, then-Governor Rick Perry vetoed Craddick’s HB 242. Perry said he supported measures that make Texas roads safer for everyone but called the bill “a government effort to micromanaged the behavior of adults.” He also cited existing state laws on cell phone use while driving.
Although Abbott signed HB 62 into law, he indicated he was “not satisfied” with it “as it was written.” He wants lawmakers to amend it so that no city or county cell phone regulation supersedes state law. “Now that Texas does have a statewide ban on texting and driving, I am calling for legislation that fully preempts cities and counties from any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles. We don’t need a patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in Texas,” Abbott explained.
He placed it on his list of 20 priorities for lawmakers to address during the special legislative session which begins on July 18.
The Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions (TCAIS), which represents the major auto insurance companies doing business in the state, thanked Abbott for signing HB 62.
The law goes into effect on September 1.
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