Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field.
Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field.

State Politics

Texting while driving will be illegal in Texas starting Sept. 1

By Anna M. Tinsley

atinsley@star-telegram.com

June 06, 2017 05:00 PM

UPDATED August 19, 2017 05:11 PM

Texans: Prepare to put down your phones while you’re driving.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday signed into law a measure that bans texting while driving across the state, effective Sept. 1.

But he also told state lawmakers, as he called them back into a special session starting July 18, that he wants an amendment to make sure that no local law can override the statewide ban.

“I signed it into law today to ensure Texas is doing all it can to prevent accidents caused by texting while driving,” Abbott said Tuesday during a news conference. “But I was not satisfied with the law as it was written.

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“Now that Texas does have a ban on texting while driving, I am calling for legislation that fully preempts cities and counties from any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles,” he added. “We don’t need a patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in Texas.”

The bill prevents drivers from texting while their car is moving.

Violators face a misdemeanor charge and a fine of between $25 to $99, although penalties could be as much as $200 for repeat offenders.

Saving lives

The soon-to-be-ban is geared to crack down on distracted driving and save Texans from accidents and deaths on roads across the state.

“Last year, 455 people were killed and more than 3,000 were seriously injured in crashes due to driver distractions,” said James Bass, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation. “These crashes are highest among young drivers.

“We ask all drivers to always keep their eyes and attention on the road, and avoid distractions of any kind.”

In Tarrant County last year, there were 22 fatal crashes, 236 incapacitating injury crashes and 1,851 possible injury crashes involving distracted driving.

In Tarrant County last year, there were 22 fatal crashes, 236 incapacitating injury crashes and 1,851 possible injury crashes involving distracted driving, according to Texas Department of Transportation records.

Statistics show 40 percent of people between the ages of 19 and 39 say they text and drive, an analysis of House Bill 62 states.

“Studies show that a driver’s reaction time [is half as much] when a driver is distracted by sending or reading a text message,” the analysis states. “What’s more, drivers who text take their eyes off the road [do so] for an average of 4.6 seconds within a six second interval. This equates to traveling the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour without looking.”

Stacey Riddle, a Houston mother, knows the importance of staying off the phone while driving.

Last year, her two teenage daughters — Brianna Robinson, 19, and Jade Robinson, 17 — were killed when the car they were in, coming home from a Spring Break trip, collided with an 18-wheeler.

“I keep waiting for Brianna and Jade to walk through the front door, but I know they never will again,” Riddle said in a statement. “People are constantly on their cell phones.

“They don’t consider that using their phones while driving can have tragic consequences and forever change their lives, the lives of their loved ones and the lives of people they don’t even know.”

New rules of the road

Dozens of Texas cities from Arlington to San Antonio have outlawed texting while driving.

And state laws do prevent texting in school zones and keeping both bus drivers with minor passengers and drivers younger than 18 from texting while driving.

Under the soon-to-be law, Texas motorists could still talk on the phone while driving, if motorists have a “hands-free device” that only requires them to briefly touch the phone or use the car to begin or end a call. The measure doesn’t impact GPS systems or even music apps on cell phones.

It also would not be a violation for a Texas motorist to summon emergency help, report illegal activity, read a text a driver “reasonably believed concerned an emergency” or communicate with a dispatcher while behind the wheel.

Critics say this isn’t the best way to address texting while driving. They say such a proposal would be hard to enforce — and would encroach on individual liberties.

Supporters say it will save lives.

Texas is among four states — as well as Arizona, Missouri and Montana — that don’t have statewide bans on texting while driving, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A bill similar to this one passed the Legislature in 2011, but then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the proposal, saying it was a way to “micromanage the behavior of adults.”

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley