Should Texas Go Hands-Free?

by Terry Bryant

As Texans know, texting while driving is illegal in the state. The law that bans texting, emailing, or any electronic messaging while operating a motor vehicle was passed by the state legislature in 2017.   Drivers in many areas of the state can still use hand-held cell phones to talk while driving, but that may be changing, too. A new legislative proposal in Texas is seeking to improve highway safety by taking cell phones out of the hands of drivers. In addition to helping keep drivers’ hands on their steering wheels as they hurtle down the road, the proposed law would also make it easier for police to enforce texting and hand-held cell bans.

Under the proposed law, all wireless communications would be hands-free. Drivers could still talk on their phones, but it would have to be through their vehicles’ hands-free Bluetooth or another system.

Many Texas Cities Already Have Hands-Free Laws

Currently, 16 states and Washington, D.C., ban hand-held cell phone use by all drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website. Should Texas follow suit? While there is certain to be a debate about this proposed new law among Texans, who are well-known for valuing their personal freedoms and being resistant to change their behaviors, it’s worthwhile to note that many cities in the state already have hand-held bans. More than 90 Texas cities have their own local cellphone ordinances in place that include various levels of restrictions to phone use while behind the wheel, such as being hands-free in school zones or other high-risk areas. However, about 45 or so cities have put ordinances in place that completely ban using hand-held phones, except in emergencies. These cities include Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and many others. And the fines for violating the law can be stiff. In Austin, for example, drivers who are caught using hand-held phones (or other hand-held mobile devices) face a fine of up to $500, unless they are making an emergency 911 call.

The new statewide hands-free law would override these local rules. Proponents of the legislation say a statewide ban would make laws consistent throughout the state, strengthening them in some cases, and serve to reduce confusion among drivers traveling between cities.

A Nationwide Epidemic

Distracted driving crashes are a nationwide epidemic, and the majority are related to cell phone use. Throughout the country in 2016, nearly 3,500 people were killed in distracted driving-related crashes. In Texas, one in five motor vehicle accidents involves distracted driving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. There were over 100,000 crashes in the state that involved distracted driving, including cell phone use, in 2017. The crashes resulted in 444 tragic deaths and 2,889 serious injuries.

If even one life is saved by taking away what is a convenience but not a necessity, wouldn’t that be worth it? We may find out in this next legislative session whether state lawmakers agree.

The dangers related to distracted driving on our roadways are very real. Should you be the victim of a car crash or other accident, the experienced attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law are here to help. Call us at 1 (800) 444-5000 or contact us through our online form.