The Common Law
Statewide ban on driving and texting
Someone told me that it's now illegal to text while driving. Is that true?
Yes. The 85th Legislature was back to work in Austin earlier this year. And while it may have seemed that the legislators were fixated on figuring out the best bathroom for us all to use, they actually did manage to pass other bills into law. Some topics seem so narrowly focused that they leave you scratching your head. (Did they really spend time to pass bills that allow for hunting feral hogs from a hot air balloon or that let folks lawfully carry spears and machetes in public? Yes, they did.) Other new laws will have a more universal impact, including the new statewide ban on texting while driving.
Starting on Sept. 1, 2017, every driver in Texas is banned from use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers are not allowed to "read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle, unless the vehicle is stopped." Fines range from $25-$99 for the first offense, and it can only get more expensive. The state law does not replace local restrictions on cell phone use, meaning the initial fine could be greater. With the passage of this law, Texas joins 47 other states to have statewide restrictions on phone use while driving. Previous local restrictions were in place in some cities, including Austin.
Music and navigation systems are viewed as exemptions and still legal, but common sense suggests that drivers refrain from using these features while driving their vehicle.
It will be interesting to see how this differentiation will manifest itself in practice. Drivers can text while sitting at a red light – but be sure your thumbs aren't still busy when the light turns green. So before you head out to carpool to school or the next big game, remember to send the text before you put the car in drive.
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Johns, Marrs, Ellis. & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.
The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.