News & opinion Texting and Driving Laws in Texas

Texting and Driving Laws in Texas

TX Distracted Driving Lawyers

The development of cell phones and other portable handheld devices has significantly impacted driving on U.S. roads. No longer seen as a luxury, but rather a necessity, these devices are always at your fingertips, ready to provide you with the ability to communicate, research, and entertain at any given moment.

Unfortunately, some people include driving time in those moments. Many drivers get distracted by their mobile devices when their full focus should be on the road, putting themselves and everyone around them at risk of injury and death. We want to combat these entirely preventable accidents, and texting and driving laws are one way to achieve that.

Texting While Driving Is a Serious Threat to Road Safety

The U.S. alone saw 3,142 deaths related to distracted driving in a recent year, as reported by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). Distracted driving-related fatalities can happen when drivers lose concentration glancing away from the road at a screen for just a few seconds. This senseless loss of life is almost always preventable.

No one is immune from the temptations of sneaking a peek at a screen while driving. What was once primarily considered a behavior engaged in by irresponsible, risk-taking teenagers has now bloomed into a problem that spans all generations of drivers and screen users. While teenagers and new drivers still represent the highest-risk group, adults of all ages frequently engage in forms of distracted driving that involve cell phone use.

Seeking to reduce the frequency of tragic accidents related to texting and driving, many states have enacted strict anti-texting and driving laws and have launched campaigns to encourage drivers to focus on road safety while traveling. Currently, 48 of the 50 United States have outlawed texting and driving. 25 states have also taken those laws to the next level by prohibiting any use of hand-held devices while driving.

While the enactment of these laws is a step in the right direction to lower the incidence of distracted driving injuries and fatalities, texting and driving continues to constitute a severe threat to the safety of drivers and passengers on Texas roadways.

What Is Texas’s Texting and Driving Law?

Texas currently has several laws on the books pertaining to cell-phone usage while driving. Texas has not enacted a blanket ban on handheld device usage behind the wheel, but numerous individual city ordinances throughout the Lone Star State do ban all cell phone use for drivers. For that reason, all drivers should get familiar not only with Texas cell phone laws, but also with those of the local jurisdictions they may pass through on their journeys.

Here is an overview of where Texas state law stands on the subject of using a mobile device while driving.

The Breakdown of Texas Texting Laws While Driving

  • It is illegal to text while behind the wheel of a moving car in Texas. This is specified as the act of sending or receiving messages while driving.
  • All handheld device use is banned while driving through a school zone.
  • Any driver with a learner’s permit cannot use a cell phone in any manner while driving during their first 6 months of driving.
  • All drivers younger than 18 years of age are banned from the use of any handheld device while driving.
  • Bus drivers cannot use their cell phones in any manner while there are children on the bus they are driving.

Is All Cell Phone Behind the Wheel Prohibited in Texas?

No. Although messaging, such as sending texts or emails, is illegal while operating a moving motor vehicle in Texas, the law still permits other actions involving cell phone use that can lead to dangerous distractions and accidents.

For instance, Texas’s texting and driving law only prohibits texting and driving while operating a moving vehicle. It expressly permits, however, that same activity when a vehicle is stopped. Therefore it seems Texas law does not prohibit a driver from texting while stopped at a red light or stop sign. That can put pedestrians, cyclists, and others at risk of accidents at intersections, because drivers lose focus while texting. Once that traffic light turns green,  they must reorient their attention and they become more susceptible to making poor decisions.

Similarly, since Texas law does not contain a blanket ban on using a device with your hands while driving, the law appears not to prohibit drivers from using a cell phone to talk on the phone, program a GPS, or even play music while their vehicle is in motion. As mentioned, some cities have enacted bans on these activities, but the lack of a state law prohibition means that many areas of the state lack meaningful restrictions on engaging in dangerous, distracted driving behaviors involving cell phone use.

The Limitations of Texas Handheld Device Laws While Driving

The loopholes and patchwork of laws and ordinances across Texas can create confusion and interfere with the overall goal of deterring cell phone use while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

In theory, a law enforcement officer in Texas can pull a driver over and issue a citation for texting and driving. Unfortunately, the law’s permissiveness in terms of other, non-messaging-related uses of cell phones, and its conditioning of some cell phone use only on a driver’s age, make real-world enforcement difficult and inconsistent. In practice, a wide variety of dangerous use of screen-based devices happens every day in Texas, putting drivers, passengers, and the general public at risk for catastrophic accidents, injuries, and death.

Distracted Driving: More Than Just Sending a Text

Texas distracted driving laws and the Texas Department of Transportation’s public awareness campaigns focus primarily on texting and cell phone use.

However, this narrow focus ignores that driver distractions come in many forms. Cell phone use of any kind is a dangerous distraction for a driver. Plus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), distracted driving can, and often does, happen even when a driver isn’t holding a cell phone.

Examples of non-cell-phone-related distracted driving include:

  • Programming a dashboard GPS or tuning a dashboard radio
  • Talking to a passenger, especially someone in a rear seat
  • Reaching for an object on the floor
  • Eating or drinking
  • Checking hair or makeup in a visor or handheld mirror
  • Playing music too loud to hear sounds outside the car
  • Singing along to music too-enthusiastically (a.k.a., “rocking out” behind the wheel)

While none of these behaviors are expressly illegal in Texas, any one of them can lead to a dangerous loss of attention that ends in an accident. If it does, and you are hurt by a distracted driver, you may have a good claim that a car accident lawyer can pursue for you.

What Makes Distracted Driving so Dangerous?

Lots of Texans spend hours in their vehicles every day. They become so accustomed to driving and consider themselves so experienced behind the wheel that they start to feel comfortable engaging in distracting activities. Some even think of themselves as accomplished multi-taskers… but the car is no place for multi-tasking. Unfortunately, what most Texas drivers do not understand is that, for the vast majority of us, there is no such thing as safe distracted driving. (In fact, multi-tasking itself is most likely a myth according to researchers.)

In the five seconds (on average) it takes to read or send a text, for instance, a car traveling at 55 mph covers a distance the length of a football field, according to the Texas Department of Insurance. That’s more than enough distance and time to make the difference between stopping for a traffic jam up ahead and plowing into it at full speed.

The fact is, distractions of all kinds interfere with three brain/body functions crucial to keeping control of a vehicle:

  • Vision. Safe driving requires keeping your eyes on the road ahead. Drivers who get distracted and look away from the road lose visual awareness of driving conditions and their own vehicle’s speed, direction of travel, and proximity to other vehicles and roadside objects.
  • Manual control. One of the first lessons we learn as drivers is to keep both hands on the wheel. Distractions have a way of prompting us to break that cardinal rule, resulting in an immediate and unavoidable decrease in the amount of control we exercise over our vehicles. The time it takes to return our hands to the wheel and regain the necessary control can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Cognitive awareness. Finally, safe drivers need their minds to stay focused on the task of driving safely. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that we’re “expert” drivers once we’ve spent a few hundred hours behind the wheel. However, even the most seasoned driver needs to stay alert and attuned to the countless, constant decisions that go into safely operating a vehicle. Distractions can effectively turn-off the parts of our brains that make those decisions, leaving us dangerously vulnerable to mistakes and the accidents that follow.

Consequences of Distracted Driving

The tragic pattern of accidents on Texas roads results, in part, from the relentless tug of distractions for drivers of all ages, which have only increased as cell phones and other screen-based devices have intruded on our lives.

It is estimated that 100 people die each day across the United States in accidents related to distracted driving. In Texas alone, the Texas Department of Transportation reported that in 2019 over 97,000 of the state’s accidents were due to driver distraction. Of those accidents, 378 individuals lost their lives and approximately 2,500 people sustained serious injuries.

These senseless deaths and catastrophic injuries inflict severe physical, emotional, and financial suffering on Texans. It is up to all of us to do our part to try to prevent them. One way to do that is to hold distracted drivers financially accountable for actions that result in accidents, injuries, and losses.

Financial Liability for Distracted Driving Accidents

All drivers—no matter their age, level of experience, or skill at the wheel—owe a basic duty of care to their passengers, other motorists, and the public at large, not to engage in unreasonably dangerous behaviors that risk causing an accident.

In an accident, when people get hurt or killed, a driver who engaged in negligent behavior can end up owing compensation to accident victims.

In Texas, distracted driving constitutes an unreasonably dangerous driving behavior that can cause an accident and lead to liability for the driver and other parties at-fault. In other words, victims of an accident caused by any kind of distracted driving—not just texting and driving—may have the right to sue for damages.

By taking legal action to seek those damages, victims may receive compensation for:

  • Medical expenses related to past, current, and future care related to an accident injury
  • Other expenses incurred because of a distracted driving accident, such as the cost of repairing or replacing damaged property
  • Loss of income and wages resulting from missing work because of an accident injury, or because of a disability that prevents you from ever returning work
  • Physical pain, emotional suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship of a loved one, and other non-monetary damages

How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help You After a Texting and Driving Accident or Other Distracted Driving Accident?

Car accident injuries can have a lasting impact on your life and your finances. Serious injuries may keep you out of school or work for weeks or months. They may cause you chronic pain and emotional difficulty. They may keep you from enjoying hobbies, sports, and activities. They may interfere with your most cherished personal relationships. They may even take your life or the life of a loved one.

You deserve compensation if a distracted driver caused the accident that led to these sorts of injuries. An experienced Texas motor vehicle accident injury attorney can help you obtain that compensation. To learn more about your rights and options, contact a skilled accident injury lawyer for a free consultation.

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