Will New Texas Distracted Driving Laws Make a Difference?

by Terry Bryant

Drivers know not to text and drive, but they still do. Now that Texas has legally outlawed it, it’s natural to wonder how effective a ban is. There is reliable evidence that states with texting bans are saving lives.

Delaware was the first state to pass a no-texting law, which went into effect in 2005. Since then, almost every state has passed some form of texting-while-driving ban. There are four types (so far).

  • Primary enforcement on ALL drivers
  • Secondary enforcement on ALL drivers
  • Primary enforcement on young drivers and secondary enforcement on all other drivers; and
  • Primary enforcement ONLY on young drivers.

Under primary enforcement, police officers can stop a vehicle if they observe the driver texting and driving. Secondary enforcement means that officers can’t charge the driver with texting and driving unless they stop a vehicle for some other reason after having probable cause to do so.

A 2013-2014 study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health examined the impact of these various texting bans on motor vehicle fatalities in 48 states, using accumulated data covering the period of 2000-2010. Published by the American Journal of Public Health, UAB Public Health researchers discovered that states with primary enforcement laws for texting – which empower an officer to pull over a driver for texting and driving as the sole cause – saw a 3% drop in traffic fatalities across all age groups and an average of 19 fewer deaths each year. Texting bans against only young drivers aged 15-21 experienced the greatest reduction in fatalities – 11%.

States with only secondary restrictions (in which the officer can’t stop the driver unless they commit another offense such as speeding or reckless driving) saw insignificant fatality decreases.

The data revealed that any ban on the use of handheld devices while driving was most effective at reducing traffic deaths among adults and that, overall, bans on texting while driving save lives. And yet, many people – especially teenage drivers – continue to text and drive every day.

Texas Taking Proactive Steps to Curb Texting While Driving

Aside from the brand new ban on the practice that went into effect in September 2017, driver’s license applicants age 18 and older must take a mandatory one-hour distracted driving awareness course in addition to the standard driving skills test. It’s an expansion of the 2015 required distracted driving course for teen drivers (age 16 and 17). There is a waiting period for the test, so teenage drivers should sign up for the distracted driving awareness course when they get their learner’s permit. They cannot take their behind-the-wheel test without having completed the distracted driving course.

The course is free.  And beginning in 2018, a final distracted driving course that focuses on drivers 25 and over will be rolled out by the Texas Department of Public Safety (TxDPS), though it is not yet known what the requirements will be for taking it. Nor is it known whether successful completion will allow the driver to get a discount on their liability insurance similar to the one for completing a defensive driving course.

If you or a member of your family has been injured by a distracted driver, the experienced attorneys with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law can help. Schedule a free consultation by filling out an appointment form, or calling us at (800) 444-5000.