Texas House Bill 62: Texting and Driving

by Brooksie Bonvillain

As of September 1, 2017, Texas motorists are now subject to a new set of rules on texting and driving.

The Offense

House Bill 62 created consequences for drivers who read, write, or send an electronic message from a portable wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.

The Defense

There are many defenses that are exceptions to the new law:

Stopped at a red light?… It’s okay to text.

Changing your music selection from an app?… That’s okay too.

Navigating with your GPS?… You’re in the clear.

Other exceptions include reporting an accident, certain jobs that require dispatch duties, and law enforcement.

The Punishment

First-time offenders are subject to fines ranging from $25 to $99.

Second-time offenders are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $200.

If the driver caused death or serious bodily injury, the offense is a Class A Misdemeanor, which carries penalties as extreme as one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000.

The History

The focus of past decades had been drunk driving. State by state, laws were put on the books to create penalties for drunk drivers.

With the ever-changing personal technological advancements of the 2000s, the focus has become distracted driving, which is largely attributable to texting and driving with the use and misuse of cell phones.

In the 1990s, the “bag phone” debuted. Followed by smaller and smaller wireless communication devices that evolved into today’s smartphones and onboard communication systems in newer model vehicles.

Drivers are affixed to their phones in bumper-to-bumper slow moving traffic, high-speed traffic on our interstates, and everywhere in between—sending text messages, checking emails, and even surfing the internet. This created a major problem of distracted driving, with an increasing number of collisions attributable to phone use.

Now, one after another, state legislatures are putting distracted driving laws on the books. Texas is the 47th state to follow suit. The Texas Legislature has been working on this since 2011. Several Texas cities already had local ordinances in place. As of the end of the 2017 legislative session, cities are still allowed to enforce their own laws if they have harsher restrictions. For example, some cities have stricter hands-free laws.

The Practical Effect

The new Texas texting and driving law has mixed reviews. While it’s certainly a step in the right direction, critics note that there are several loopholes and it’s difficult to enforce.

For starters, the offense “must be committed in the presence of or within the view of a peace officer or established by other evidence.” This creates practical enforcement problems, which lead to questions of proof and unlawful search and seizure if a peace officer asks to see a driver’s cell phone.

For now, drivers on Texas roads are—at the very least—banned from reading, writing, or sending an electronic message from a portable wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.