Texas Texting While Driving Law Takes Effect on September 1

The law couldn’t come soon enough

Texas is about to become the 48th state to outlaw texting while driving. Okay, so at least we weren’t last.

The law takes effect on September 1. But, why wait? Why not just go ahead and put the phone away?

If you need convincing, consider that distracted drivers caused 109,000 accidents and killed 455 people in Texas in 2016. Distracted drivers were responsible for more than 8,200 crashes that killed 23 people in Tarrant County and more than 7,000 accidents that killed 16 people in Dallas County.

It is impossible to look at a phone screen and drive safely at the same time. A driver who does so is just an accident waiting to happen. Some people will text and drive regardless, but many others will stop to avoid a traffic fine and points on their driving record.

What you need to know about the anti-texting law

The anti-texting law bans use of electronic devices to write, read or send a text message. A first time offender faces a fine of $25 to $99. Unfortunately, $25 may not be much of a deterrent. That basically equals the cost of a movie matinee plus snacks.

However, get caught texting a second time while behind the wheel, and the citation goes up to as much $200. That hurts a little more.

But, what I really like about the law is that it creates a shift in attitude. Most people respect the law and want to remain within its bounds. In the past, there was a sense that if texting were legal, it must not be that dangerous. The law confirms that texting is not something drivers should be doing.

I especially appreciate the impact the law can have on teen drivers. Parents used to appeal to a theoretical argument to convince their teens that texting was dangerous. Now parents can offer the concrete reason for their kids not to text while driving — it’s against the law.

What happens if you live in a town that had already passed an ordinance?

Many Texas municipalities decided not to wait on our excruciatingly slow Texas legislature. Taking measures into their own hands, 100 cities passed ordinances that restricted cell phone use and texting. Governor Greg Abbott pushed to make the less restrictive statewide law supersede all local ordinances. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful in that endeavor.

If you drive in one of the cities that have a local ordinance on the books, you are subject to the stricter law. Governor Abbott argued that the patchwork of codes could confuse drivers. But, there is an easy solution. To be sure you don’t violate a particular local ordinance, you could just put your phone away altogether?

New distracted driving course mandate also begins September 1

Handing your teen the keys for the first time can be an unnerving experience. I know; I’ve been there. And no matter how responsible, smart and levelheaded your teen is, parents can’t help but worry.

In 2015, the Texas Department of Public Safety launched the Impact Texas Teen Drivers course for 16 and 17 year-olds as part of getting their licenses. That program has now been expanded to young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 who are getting their licenses. The Impact Texas Young Drivers class educates drivers on the dangers of distracted driving. The six-hour ITYD course is a requirement for getting a license starting on September 1.

The new law and the distracted driving classes are starting our teens off on the right foot. This should help parents rest at least a little easier.

I am interested to see if I get fewer distracted driving injury cases, a result I am hoping for.

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