The content of Texas driving laws depends on the part of the Lone Star State being referred to, as local municipalities determine what rules motorists are required to abide by. But there’s a pending piece of legislation being considered that, if passed and ultimately signed into law, would apply to every motorist who drives in Texas.
It concerns distracted driving, specifically texting while behind the wheel. In mid-March, the Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed House Bill 62 – 113 in favor and 32 opposed – prohibiting motorists from sending text messages when their vehicles are moving. This is an action that most of the U.S. has already implemented, but the Lone Star State is one of a handful in which the activity isn’t banned.
The move to make texting while driving illegal stems, in part, from the rate at which motorists have been involved in accidents over the years, many of them serious. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 20% of highway collisions in Texas derive from motorists multitasking. In fact, last year, more than 108,960 crashes were caused by distracted driving, a 3% increase from 2015. Tragically, over 3,000 people were killed.
James Bass, executive director for TxDOT, indicated this type of activity is happening at a frighteningly frequent clip, with no signs of letting up.
“People are dying on Texas roadways because drivers are diverting their attention from the road to talk on a phone, send a text, post to social media or engage in some other distracting behavior,” Bass said. “When drivers take their focus off the road, they put themselves, their passengers and others at risk. It’s just not worth it.”
Texting increases accident potential 23 times
Several studies over the years have documented proof that texting and driving is as risky as operating a vehicle under the influence of an alcohol. One of the more prominent studies came from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Researchers determined in 2013 that those who text and drive are 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident compared to those who stay focused on the road.
The distracted driving trend is on full display throughout much of the country. In 2015, nearly 35,100 people were killed in traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Of these, 3,477 were linked to distractions, a near 9% increase from the previous year.
“Repeat offenders will be assessed a $200 fine.”
$99 fine for first offense
While safety officials and police enforcement acknowledge that motorists have to cooperate with the law in order for these kinds of accidents to diminish, legislators in Texas are hopeful HB 62 will be the first step in the right direction. Once implemented, motorists would be ticketed for $99 if it’s the first time they’ve been cited for the violation, the American-Statesman reported. Repeat offenders would be hit with a $200 penalty.
Texas auto insurance providers have long advised motorists to keep their attention on the roads. Frequently, insurance premiums can increase sharply if policyholders are at fault for distracted driving-related claims.
The Senate has to approve the legislation before it moves on to Texas Governor Greg Abbott, but there’s no guarantee it will arrive at his desk. Similar proposals have been vetoed by previous administrations and failed to garner enough votes to move on to the Senate as well, American-Statesman reported.
If it does become law, though, Texas would be the 47th state to bar drivers from texting at the wheel. If the National Transportation Safety Board had its way, the activity would already be prohibited everywhere, having called for this type of nationwide ban for several years now.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Elephant Auto Insurance joins the safety community in urging motorists to put down their smart phones and keep their attention where it belongs – the road.