Texas, long a holdout in adopting anti-distraction laws that have been the rule of law in most other states, now has a texting and driving ban.
As of Friday, Sept. 1, anyone caught texting behind the wheel in Texas could be hit with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of at least $25 but no more than $99, the Waxahachie Daily Light reported.
Drivers whose texting behind the wheel caused a crash resulting in serious bodily injury or death will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by fines up to $4,000 and one year in jail. The law supersedes all local ordinances that have gone into effect over the years, the Daily Light reported, citing Waxahachie authorities.
Unlike a strict anti-distraction law that took effect in Washington state recently, the new Texas law is more lenient in that it allows drivers to text behind the wheel when idling or stopped at a light. Drivers may also use cell phones while driving to report an emergency or crime.
Drivers younger than 18 are not allowed to use their phones behind the wheel for any reason other than an emergency.
The law was passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbot.
The rate of deadly traffic accidents has been particularly dismal in Texas in recent years compared to other states, and authorities say distraction and alcohol are to blame.
According to the Insurance Council of Texas, there were 3,400 fatal traffic accidents on Texas highways in 2016, and 175,000 accidents resulting in injuries. The number of fatal crashes is now more than 20 percent higher than it was just six years ago. In fact, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that Texas had the highest number of traffic deaths of any state in 2015.
“Texting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds,” the National Highway Transportation Board states on its website. “At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.”
“One in five crashes in Texas is caused by distracted driving,” Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director James Bass told the Daily Light. “We are pleased the Texas Legislature recognizes the extreme danger caused by texting and driving. The new law sends a very clear message to Texans to put down their phones and focus on the road. We are hopeful this new law will help save lives and reduce injuries.”