Are the Driving and Texting Laws in Texas Good Enough?

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.

We look at the driving and texting laws in Texas and ask, are they good enough?

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, 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 were driving 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.

In 2020, the Texas Department of Transportation reported that 368 people died in crashes involving distracted driving — down 3% compared to the previous year. However, we can’t ignore that 2020 was a year full of lockdowns and advice not to travel unless necessary. Notably, one in five crashes in Texas continue to be caused by distracted driving.

The Continued Prevalence of Distracted Driving

Just one big story to hit the news in recent months 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 and 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 towards 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.

Even those who 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 simply 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 school zones 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 fines to increase 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 hit 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.

If you or a loved one have been injured by a texting 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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