What Are the Texas Distracted Driving Laws Drivers Should Know?
In Travis County in 2015, the most recent data on record, a total of 4,935 crashes involved distracted driving. In the counties surrounding Austin (Burnet, Blanco, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop, and Williamson), 3,431 crashes involved distracted drivers. Comparatively, Travis County recorded a total of 1,624 drunk driving accidents during the same year. The data shows an alarming trend. Distracted driving presents a threat worthy of the attention that drunk driving receives in the state of Texas.
Distracted Driving Laws in Texas
Every year, more than 100,000 Texas car accidents involve distracted drivers. The state of Texas enforces some of the laxest distracted driving laws in the country. Under current laws, our state does not ban cell phone use for most drivers on the roadways. The following limitations apply at the state level:
- Learner’s permit drivers cannot use a cellphone while driving for the first six months.
- All drivers under age 18 must avoid using any wireless communication devices.
- School bus operators cannot use cellphones while operating a vehicle in the presence of children.
- All drivers must stop using mobile devices in school zones.
Many legislators repeatedly attempt to push texting legislation through the state legislature but have yet to succeed. In the absence of a statewide ban or restriction, many local jurisdictions enacted mobile device statutes of their own.
Austin Distracted Driving Laws
As soon as you drive into the city limits of Austin, you must put down all handheld devices unless you’re reacting to an emergency. Texting, talking on a handheld device, or interacting on an app could result in a $500 fine. You will not receive a fine for using a mobile device while safely sitting at a complete stop.
Austin has enforced the mobile device ordinances since 2015 and wants to serve as a role model for other jurisdictions. The city will even discount court fees associated with first-time offenses if drivers show proof of purchase of hands-free devices.
The law also extends to bicyclists who might use handheld devices to talk or look up GPS directions while riding on a bicycle. If you’re traveling in the city of Austin, the safest course of action is to put down all handheld devices until you exit city limits.
Distracted Driving and Civil Claims
The state may not ban distracted driving on a widespread level, and local jurisdictional statutes may only extend to mobile device use. Drivers must still beware the dangers of distracted driving. If someone suffers from an injury and can prove another driver was distracted, the jury will see any distraction as proof of negligence. Distracted driving may include eating, reaching into a purse, changing GPS settings, putting on makeup, or otherwise failing to pay proper attention to the road.
According to the CDC, you can cross the length of a football field while typing an average text and driving at 55 mph. During those few distracted seconds you could fail to apply brakes or swerve into another lane. Anything can happen in a matter of seconds and turn an innocuous mobile response into a lifelong nightmare. It’s just not worth it.
The Future of Distracted Driving
When autonomous vehicles hit the roadways, distractions may not make as much of a difference. Today, distractions cause thousands of accidents and injuries every year. Some people will lose their lives due to the carelessness of a distracted driver.
To avoid the risks of distracted driving, turn your phone to silent and place it out of reach until you reach your destination. Avoid engaging in activities that prevent you from focusing on the road ahead. In reality, no one truly multi-tasks. Distracted driving puts lives at risk.
New technology in vehicles, including lane departure and hazard alerts, can reduce the risk, but only behavior changes will stop this dangerous trend. Pokeballs, emails, and social media alerts can wait. Regardless of the laws, the Austin distracted driving attorneys at Ross • Scalise Law Group believe that every driver is responsible for acting reasonably and safely while behind the wheel.