Effective Sept. 1, texting while driving is illegal across the state of Texas as the result of a new texting-while-driving ban passed during the 85th Texas Legislative Session. The law prohibits motorists from reading, writing or sending electronic messages while driving.
“One in five crashes in Texas is caused by distracted driving,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “We are pleased the Texas Legislature recognizes the extreme danger caused by texting and driving. The new law sends a very clear message to Texans to put down their phones and focus on the road. We are hopeful this new law will help save lives and reduce injuries.”
Last year, 109,658 traffic crashes in Texas involved distracted driving. Those crashes resulted in 455 deaths and 3,087 serious injuries.
While distracted drivers risk injuring or killing themselves and others, they also now face penalties under the new statewide law. A first offense is punishable by a fine up to $99; any subsequent offense carries a fine up to $200. Drivers should be aware that some cities have additional ordinances that are more restrictive. Exceptions to the new law include emergency communication or electronic messaging when the vehicle is stopped.
For those under 18 years of age, Texas law already bans all cell phone use while driving, including hands-free, except in the case of emergencies. Additionally, drivers are currently banned from texting and using hand-held cellular devices while driving in school zones. School bus operators also are prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present.
The city of El Paso passed a texting while driving ordinance in 2010. Police can issue citations to any driver they see talking or texting on a cell phone. The cost of the citation may cost up to $150.
This new law extends to El Paso County.
ABC-7 wanted to know how deputies will enforce the new law. Lieutenant Saul Ambriz with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said while deputies aren't going through specific training at this time, some of the signs are obvious.
"Because of the erratic driving," Ambriz said.
Ambriz said for this first month, drivers will only receive a warning if seen texting and driving. After this month, deputies will begin issuing citations.
Drivers do not have to make a different traffic violation to get pulled over.
"One the officer determines there's enough suspicion to issue the citation for the violation then he'll issue that citation," Ambriz said.
ABC-7 asked how a deputy would know the difference between if a person is texting and say, using a GPS. Ambriz said if you're reading a map navigation device, that is also a violation.
"The violation is to read, to text or send messages," Ambriz said. "So if you have to read a map on your phone that would likely constitute as a violation."
The law also states you can use a device if your car is stopped. But Ambriz said that does not mean while stopped in traffic, or at a red light.
"If you're stopped on the roadway that in itself is a violation," Ambriz said. "So it would be wise to stop on the side of hte road and conduct your message or your phone call in an emergency situation."