Are the Driving and Texting Laws in Texas Good Enough?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

texas texting laws

Distracted driving has always been a problem, not just on Texas’s roads but all over the country. Drivers have always had to contend with various distractions while driving — from talking to passengers and eating or drinking to adjusting the radio, music, or GPS — but the development of cell phones and other portable devices has had an enormous impact.

According to the latest data from the Texas Department for Transportation, there were 676 car accidents statewide that were a result of texting while driving in 2022. Compared to 2021, there was a decrease of 14.1%, with the recorded crash contributing factor as “Cell/Mobile Device Use — Texting.” However, the latest distracted driving statistics show the total number of crashes with cell phones as a contributing factor in 2022 was 3,430.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at driving and texting laws in Texas and their implications for drivers. We’ll look at every aspect of the laws and how they affect Texas drivers, what to do in the event of a crash, and answer some frequently asked questions about texting while driving. We’ll also take a critical look at the texting and driving laws and ask, are they good enough?

Have you been injured in an accident because a driver was texting? Discover what evidence you need to build your case and how much compensation you could be entitled to. Click here to book a free case review with our San Antonio and McAllen accident attorney.

The Impact of Driving and Texting

Talking on the phone or reading or responding to a text message may only take a driver’s eyes off the road for a few moments, but that’s all it takes to cause a devastating — even deadly — crash.

We know that responding to a text message while driving takes about five seconds, but did you know that it’s the equivalent of driving almost the length of a football field with your eyes closed?

Many people think they can multitask while driving, but studies prove otherwise. In reality, rather than doing two tasks at the same time — such as driving and texting — the brain rapidly flits between the two. The result is that a driver can’t do either adequately, making missing a hazard or not reacting in time much more likely.

What Do the Driving and Texting Laws in Texas Say?

In 2017, the Texas legislature enacted a statewide ban on texting while driving, but that doesn’t mean all cell phone use is prohibited at the wheel.

Texas texting laws only prohibit texting while operating a moving vehicle, so drivers can legally text while they are stationary, such as at a stop sign or red light.

The issue with this is clear: since texting distracts drivers, a motorist could easily lose focus when their attention should be on the road.

For example, what could happen if a driver is at a red light and responds to a text message?

  1. When the light turns green, the driver might react in time, but because they’ve been distracted, they might be more susceptible to missing a hazard or a car pulling up alongside them.
  2. The driver might miss the green light because they’re still looking at their phone. As a result, the driver behind might have to take evasive action after hitting the gas because they’ve realistically expected the car ahead to move forward.

Neither of these situations could be considered safe, but this is exactly what can happen under Texas’s driving and texting laws.

It’s also important to note that while there is a blanket ban on texting and driving, there is no statewide law preventing drivers from other behaviors that could distract them. These include talking on a cell phone, programming a GPS, or changing music while driving. Some cities do ban these activities, but there’s no consistency, and this is a problem, as any of these can distract a driver long enough to cause an accident.

Are the Texting Laws in Texas Effective?

Immediately after Texas’s driving and texting laws were changed to prohibit texting while a vehicle is moving in 2017, car accident fatalities involving distracted driving decreased by 11%. However, whether this drop can be attributed solely to this stricter law is up for debate.

Many factors affect the number of fatalities on our roads — from how many people drive in a single year to weather and road conditions — so it’s impossible to attribute a decrease to any single event. It’s also worth noting that while overall fatalities from distracted driving fell, this doesn’t mean that people completely stopped texting while driving — the drop could have easily been caused by an overall decrease in road activity or any other factor.

However, it’s important to understand that the legal implications of texting while driving can extend beyond the immediate risk of an accident. In Texas, there’s a legal concept known as “negligence per se.” This means that if a person violates a law, and that violation causes harm to another person, the lawbreaker can be considered negligent by default.

Since texting while driving is illegal in Texas, any accident caused by a driver who was texting at the time could be considered negligent by default. This could have serious legal implications for the driver, potentially leading to hefty fines, increased insurance rates, and even jail time if the accident resulted in serious injuries or death.

In the most recent figures from 2022, the Texas Department of Transportation reported that 484 people died in crashes involving distracted driving — up 11% compared to the previous year.

The Continued Prevalence of Distracted Driving

Just one big story to hit the news recently is that of auto manufacturer Tesla, which is currently under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) after a driver found they could use the car’s Passenger Play feature while driving. Intended to be used when the car is stationary and only by passengers, the feature allows individuals to play games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Solitaire, as well as browse the internet.

In the wake of that story, one survey of over 2,000 drivers across the US found that a shocking 49% regularly engage in behaviors that could be putting themselves at risk of causing a crash. Behaviors involving cell phone use — talking on the phone, texting, and browsing social media — represented a combined total of 22.9%.

The Limitations of Texas’s Driving and Texting Laws

While the ban on texting while driving marked progress toward combating distracted driving on Texas roads, it’s clear that there’s still work to be done. The current Texas texting laws are inconsistent — with some cities outright banning cell phone use while others only enforce the statewide texting ban — and hard to enforce.

Those who do violate the law only face a fine of up to $200. Considering that texting while driving can lead to a horrendous crash that could kill or seriously injure drivers and pedestrians, it’s not difficult to argue that the penalty doesn’t fit the crime.

It’s also hard for police to obtain proof that a driver was texting while driving. Unless a witness can testify that they saw a driver texting or camera footage captures the violation, it’s near impossible to confidently state it was the cause of a crash, especially when various factors, such as fatigue or loss of driver inattention, are usually present.

Unfortunately, most drivers know this, and it seems many are prepared to continue the practice despite the fact it could cause them to hit another vehicle or swerve off the road entirely.

The laws are stricter for drivers in a school zone or school bus drivers who have children on board. In these cases, drivers aren’t allowed to use cell phones at all. Perhaps it is time for the texting and driving laws in Texas to change so that cell phone use is prohibited on the road entirely and for larger fines to effectively deter drivers from the practice.

How Can the Victim of a Distracted Driving Accident Prove That a Texting Driver Caused the Accident?

Unless a driver has a dashcam in operation or several people can testify that they saw a driver use a cell phone just before a crash, it is hard to prove that a driver was distracted when they caused an accident. It’s unlikely that the at-fault driver will admit to using a phone or texting at the time.

However, other evidence may show that the driver was negligent. If a driver traveling in the opposite direction ends up over a centerline or was filmed by a surveillance camera running a red light or failing to stop at an intersection, it could provide valuable video evidence of the accident.

Your car accident lawyer could also issue a subpoena for cell phone call records if they can justify that a driver’s records should be checked to see whether they were using their phone at the time of the crash. These records can show the exact time and length of a phone call or text message. 

If the exact time of the crash can be verified as taking place when the phone call or text message came through, this could be invaluable evidence that the other driver was to blame for the accident.

Another vital piece of evidence is your crash report. In most cases, a law enforcement officer will be at the scene of the crash and fill out a written report known as a Texas Peace Officer’s Crash Report (form CR-3). This report provides valuable information about the circumstances of the accident, including:

  • Details of involved parties
  • Location and time of the accident
  • Weather conditions
  • Road conditions
  • Injuries caused by the accident.

This report can be a key piece of evidence for proving that a texting driver caused an accident. Not only does it provide detailed information about the accident itself, but it can provide your car accident attorney with accurate times, which are crucial when looking through subpoenaed phone records.

Driving and Texting Laws Texas FAQs

Driving and texting laws in the Lone Star State can be complex, but it’s important for all Texas drivers to understand them. To help you understand your responsibilities as a driver, we’ve put together some of the most commonly asked questions regarding texting and driving. 

Is texting while driving legal in Texas?

No, texting while driving is not legal in Texas. In 2017, Texas passed a statewide ban on texting while operating a moving vehicle. The law was introduced to combat the rising number of accidents and fatalities caused by distracted driving. 

It’s important to note that the law doesn’t include all cell phone usage while driving. Drivers can still legally use their cell phones to make calls or use GPS while driving. However, some cities have laws banning all cell phone usage while driving, so it’s advisable to avoid using your phone when driving. 

What is the penalty for texting and driving in Texas?

The penalty for texting and driving in Texas is a fine of up to $200. Considering the potentially devastating consequences of texting while driving, many consider the fine to be too lenient and argue that a higher penalty would be a more effective deterrent. 

Can you talk hands-free while driving in Texas?

Yes, you can talk hands-free while driving in Texas. The current law doesn’t prohibit talking on a cell phone while driving. However, it’s important to note that even hands-free conversations can be distracting and potentially dangerous. 

Research has shown that engaging in a conversation while driving, even hands-free, can divert a driver’s attention from the road and slow their reaction times. Despite this, there is currently no statewide law in Texas that bans hands-free cell phone use while driving.

Can you text at a stoplight in Texas?

Yes, under the current Texas law, you can text at a stoplight in Texas. The law currently only bans texting while operating a moving vehicle. However, many people argue that even when stationary, a driver’s attention should be on the road and the surrounding traffic conditions. Texting at a stoplight can delay a driver’s response when the light turns green, potentially leading to accidents or traffic congestion.

Is eating while driving illegal in Texas?

No, eating while driving is not specifically illegal in Texas. However, any behavior that distracts a driver and leads to unsafe driving can be considered reckless or negligent behavior — which could potentially lead to legal consequences. While there is no specific law against eating while driving, if this behavior results in an accident, the driver could be held liable for any damages or injuries caused. 

What is the texting law in Texas?

The 2017 texting law in Texas bans Texas drivers from texting while operating a moving vehicle. However, it does not ban all cell phone usage while driving. Drivers can legally text while stationary, such as at a stop sign or red light, and can also use a hands-free device while driving. It’s important to note different cities in Texas and school zones have different laws regarding cell phone usage while driving, so it’s advisable to avoid all cell phone usage while driving.  

If you or a loved one have been injured by a texting or distracted driver, whatever the circumstances, you should contact our skilled car accident lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio. We can help you get the compensation you deserve.

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