Many people attempt to multitask while driving—whether by eating, applying makeup, or using their phones, among other habits. As of September 1, drivers in Texas now have to stop one of those actions: texting while behind the wheel. A law signed this summer by Governor Greg Abbott bans texting while driving throughout the state.
The fine for first-time offenders could reach $99, and repeat offenders up to $200. If the result is an accident causing serious harm or death, the driver can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor that could result in jail time for up to 1 year and a fine up to $4,000.
Drivers may still use GPS and other apps on their phone, but are encouraged to keep their heads up and eyes on the road. Additionally, while they may text during a stop at a traffic light, motorists must stop texting as soon as they begin driving again.
"If an officer sees that person is moving on [from the traffic light] but still texting and driving, they'll pull them over," said Garland, Texas police spokesman, Pedro Barineau. "The key here is keeping your head up and keeping your hands on the wheel [while driving]."
One in 5 accidents in Texas involves a distracted driver, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In 2016, distracted drivers were involved in 109,658 traffic accidents that caused over 3,000 serious injuries and 455 deaths in the state.
“The sobering truth is that texting while driving makes a car accident 23 times more likely to occur,” wrote Jeff Rasansky, a Dallas attorney.
There is no grace period for the new law, so offenders will be ticketed and fined effective immediately. This new state law does not address the hands-free ordinances in the 45 cities throughout Texas who already enforce it within their jurisdictions. If drivers must use their phones while driving, Barineau suggests looking into hands-free options like Bluetooth or apps that assist with messaging through voice recognition.