Last updated: August 26, 2016
Texas distracted driving news: Supporters of a statewide texting law gathered for the Texas Distracted Driving Policy Summit in mid-August. Lawmakers will return in 2017 and face various proposals targeting texting & driving and handheld cell phone use. “We remain committed to addressing this issue,” said state Rep. Byron Cook. “Quite honestly, we’re losing too many fellow citizens needlessly to distracted driving.” State Sen. Konni Burton vows to continue to fight “criminalizing” use of handheld cell phones. As many as 60 Texas communities have their own distracted driving ordinances. AAA Texas sponsored the summit.
State Rep. Tom Craddick charges that legislators “have not done our job as lawmakers to protect the life and safety of all Texans.” Craddick filed distracted driving bills in the past three sessions and is expected to so again for 2017. “I would bet the law doesn’t pass,” says state Sen. Kirk Watson, who supports a ban on texting by all drivers in Texas. A plan to outlaw texting & driving won approval in the House in 2015 but was killed by a group of GOP lawmakers in the Senate. That resulted in Texas not having a statewide texting & driving ban for at least two more years.
Texas is one of only four states without a full texting ban.
Distracted drivers caused more than 100,000 crashes statewide in 2015. That resulted in 422 fatalities, the Texas Department of Transportation reported.
Texas distracted driving prohibitions:
- Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communications devices.
- Learners permit holders are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving.
- School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present.
- Drivers prohibited from using handheld devices in school crossing zones.
- Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Amarillo, Galveston, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Missouri City, the Canyon, San Angelo, Snyder, Hurst, Lakeway and Stephenville are among the more than 50 Texas cities that have enacted local distracted driving laws.
New HandsFreeInfo feature: Distracted driving research page.
Distracted driving notes (2016):
State Sen. Kirk Watson says, “Texas is making a big mistake” by not outlawing electronic distracted driving. Still, he told Everything Lubbock, “I would not bet that the law passes (in 2017). “In fact, if required to make a bet of real money I would bet the law doesn’t pass.”
Lakeway upped its maximum fine for electronic distracted driving to $500 in mid-August. The original fine for texting or using handheld cell phones topped out at $100, but officials said that was an error in wording.
Two likely incoming state senators are expected to help maintain Senate resistance to new distracted driving laws: Reps. Bryan Hughes and Borris Miles, both of whom voted against previous texting legislation, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
Hurst enacted a ban on drivers’ use of handheld devices in late July. A three-month warning period follows. Fines up to $500.
San Angelo drivers can no longer text and drive, or use their cell phones’ apps while behind the wheel. The City Council gave final approval to a local distracted driving law Jan. 5. Although the law took effect days later, officials indicated a short warning period would be in effect. Fines top out at $500.
San Marcos’ handheld cell phone ban went into effect in early February. Ticketing begins March 1, after a warning period. Fine up to $250.
Port Aransas OK’d a handheld cell phone ban for drivers Jan. 22. Fines up to $500.
Little Elm adopted a hands-free law in early January. Prohibited activities while driving in the Dallas-Fort Worth-area city include using a handheld device to talk, text and take photos. Fines begin at $100 and go up to $500. A warning period runs through the end of February.
Jacksonville adopted a texting & driving ban Jan. 12. Fines between $200 and $500. The eastern Texas city’s mayor said the idea was “to be proactive and not wait until someone isn’t paying attention and runs over someone.”
Argyle’s ban on handheld device use while driving is in effect, but police will be issuing warnings until May 1. Fine up to $200. The Town Council OK’d the local law Nov. 17.
San Antonio police wrote 10,539 tickets for electronic distracted driving in 2015 via the city ordinance that went into effect that February. San Antonio saw 273 cell phone-related crashes in 2015, the most since 2010, TxDOT reports.
2015 distracted driving notes:
San Angelo’s City Council voted 6 to 1 to adopt a local law banning texting while driving. The ordinance also bars use of apps while driving. Fines would top out at $500. The Dec. 15 vote was revisited in January before it went into effect. (The ordinance was adopted Jan. 5, 2016.)
Houston’s city council is considering three plans to rein in electronic distracted driving. One would ban handheld cell phone use, another would outlaw texting & driving and a third would prohibit the practice in school zones. Outgoing Mayor Annise Parker has pushed for a distracted driving ordinance off and on since taking office in 2010, and she seeks to get some kind of law through before year’s end.
“It is always disappointing when good legislation does not get enacted,” state Rep. Tom Craddick said of the death of his texting & driving bill. “But it is especially tough to tell the families that have lost loved ones because of a texting-while-driving crash or to look in the eye of a victim who is permanently confined to a wheelchair because of a distracted driving crash.”
State Sen. Konni Burton’s group left the measure one vote short of advancing to a vote on the Senate floor. Time ran out, with the Legislature in final adjournment June 1.
The state Department of Transportation says distracted driving crashes and fatalities in Texas are highest among drivers ages 16 to 24, followed by adults over the age of 45. One in 5 crashes involve distractions, TxDOT says.
Midland’s citywide ban on texting & driving went into effect Oct. 1. Drivers also can be ticketed for using apps on their smartphones. Police can stop and cite offenders for those reasons. GPS use and talking on cell phones remain legal. Fine: Up to $500. City council members OK’d the law over the summer.
House Bill 80 was veteran state lawmaker Rep. Tom Craddick’s third attempt to outlaw text messaging by Texas’ adult drivers. The plan, he said, “will not become law and will not help prevent future injuries or loss of life.” His texting bill of 2013 also died in a Senate committee. The previous governor vetoed the 2011 measure and the new governor has stated opposition to further distracted driving legislation.
The bill was kept from the Senate floor by a bunch of “mostly junior senators” led by state Sen. Konni Burton, according to a report on the resistance in the Texas Tribune.
The Senate’s State Affairs Committee approved House Bill 80 on May 11 after hearing testimony May 7. “The Texas House of Representatives already has passed the Alex Brown Memorial Act overwhelmingly, and it’s time for the Texas Senate to do the same,” said Senate sponsor Judith Zaffirini.
Representatives OK’d House Bill 80 in a 102-40 vote March 25. “Texting is the king of distraction,” a spokesman for an insurance industry group told The House Transportation Committee at a hearing on the bill March 5. The Texas Medical Association said the bill “will help reduce costly and preventable injury.” The Transportation panel was convinced, giving State Rep. Tom Craddick’s plan its unanimous approval.
Sen. Konni Burton says the 2015 texting & driving bill “does not provide any additional protections to Texans and contains several enforceability issues.”
State Sen. Don Huffines held up the texting & driving bill in the State Affairs Committee by “tagging” the legislation. The committee chairwoman convinced Huffines to allow testimony in exchange for a delayed vote. The chairwoman, Sen. Joan Huffman, said the vote would be “very close.” The bill advanced, 5-2.
San Antonio’s distracted driving law generated 1,609 citations between Feb. 1 and March 16. Before that, the initial 2015 advisory period produced 1,439 warnings, police told local media.
In Austin, 977 tickets were handed out in February and March, police said, with the warning period ending Feb. 1.
Bee Cave’s handheld-device law goes into effect July 30. Bicyclists included. Fines up to $500.
State Rep. Tom Craddick said he was “elated” after the House Transportation Committee approved his texting & driving legislation, House Bill 80, on March 10. It later won approval of the full House. An attempt to limit the law to secondary enforcement was defeated (73-66 vote) during the hours of debate in the House.
Craddick pointed to the state’s “patchwork of local ordinances that confuses drivers. … It is time that we changed that and give our Texas drivers safer roads to travel on and prevent the loss of life.”
At least a half dozen distracted-driving related bills were filed for the 2015 legislative session.
West Lake Hill, Bee Cave and Lakeway are considering distracted driving ordinances, following the lead of Austin, the Statesman reports.
52 people died in crashes linked to cell phone use in 2014, the Texas Department of Transportation reports. That’s just under the 56 reported in 2013.
The Texas Medical Association expressed its support for House Bill 80: “By eliminating texting while driving across the state and promoting distracted driving education for Texas drivers, HB 80 will help reduce costly and preventable injury and make our roads safer for all Texans,” the group said.
Austin’s distracted driving laws expanded to almost all uses of handheld cell phones Jan. 1. The law also applies to bicyclists. A monthlong warning period led up to the start of ticket writing Feb. 1. Electronics retailers said in early January that they’re pretty much sold out of hands-free headsets. The city has mailed out informational pamphlets and is setting up roadside signs advising of the change to Austin’s distracted driving law.
San Antonio has banned handheld cell phone use by drivers, effective Jan. 1. Fine of $200 began after the 30-day grace period ended. Councilman Mike Gallagher said he proposed the ban because police told him distracted driving is now “the major cause of accidents” in the city.
Even before the warning (grace) period was over in San Antonio, a social-media debate broke out over law enforcement’s use of handheld electronic devices. The new law, however, exempts police and deputies while on duty, as it does in Austin. Most states with distracted driving laws exempt police and other first-responders.
State Rep. Byron Cook, a co-sponsor of the House Bill 80 texting & driving ban, says he’s “hopeful that Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will look at this proposed legislation in its totality … and do what’s right for Texas and make a safer environment for people.”
In Denton, advisory signs are going up and enforcement of the local distracted driving law began in mid-February. The law was approved back in May 2014, but problems with the signs’ design delayed the start of the warning period and then the enforcement.
Backers of distracted driving legislation gathered in the capitol in early February to push for bills named in memory of Alex Brown, a high school student who died while texting & driving in 2010. More than a dozen families who lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes attended. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, sponsor of the Senate bill, told the gathering: “Do not be discouraged, do not be disheartened.” She said her bill was up for a hearing before the Transportation Committee.
Distracted driving legislation (2015)
House Bill 80: Would prohibit text messaging with handheld wireless communications devices. Includes email and instant messaging. Entry of phone numbers and hands-free texting OK. Fines: $25 to $99 (first offense), then $100 to $200. No points. aka Alex Brown Memorial Act. Approved unanimously by the Transportation Committee on March 10. Approved by the full House in a 102-40 vote of March 25. OK’d by the Senate State Affairs Committee in a 5-2 vote of May 11. Dead. (Craddick)
HB 141: Seeks to prohibit use of handheld wireless communications devices while driving, with “voice communications” excepted. Fines: $25 to $100. Would not pre-empt local laws. (Menendez)
HB 214: Would outlaw texting & driving. Fines: $25 to $99 (first offense), then $100 to $200. Requires distracted driving material on driver’s license test. Exempts GPS or “navigation service.” No points. aka Alex Brown Memorial Act. Duplicate of HB 64 and HB 80. (Harless)
HB 64: Would bar all drivers from texting & driving. Duplicate of HB 80 and HB 214, above. aka Alex Brown Memorial Act. (Lucio III)
Senate Bill 25: Would bar drivers from text messaging with handheld wireless communications devices. Fines: $25 to $99 (first offense), then $100 to $200. aka Alex Brown Memorial Act. Companion bill to HB 80, above. (Zaffirini)
SB 238: Would bar state employees and state officers from texting & driving while working, including texting on state-owned devices and in state-owned vehicles. (Zaffirini)
2014 distracted driving notes:
The Department of Transportation reported 100,917 distracted driving crashes in 2014, resulting in 483 fatalities and more than 3,000 serious injuries. Compared with 2013, distracted-driving crashes in Texas last year increased by 6 percent, TxDOT said in mid-June. “Talking, texting, eating or even changing the radio station while driving can lead to serious injury or death,” TxDOT deputy executive director John Barton said.
The change in the governor’s office probably won’t mean a change in Texas’ distracted driving laws. Attorney General Greg Abbott was elected in November to replace Gov. Rick Perry — and shares his disdain for efforts to “micromanage” electronic communications device use by the state’s adult drivers. Abbott’s reps reiterated in September that he “supports laws already in place that prohibit cell phone use by young drivers and in school zones” but doesn’t want an expansion of Texas distracted driving laws.
Snyder has banned texting as well as many uses of smartphones while driving in city limits. Phone calling is not affected. The ordinance, approved Dec. 1, states that the city considers use of handheld devices by drivers “a traffic hazard” and “a danger to the public.”
State Rep. Tom Craddick’s House Bill 80 of 2015 is another in a series of legislation in memory of Alex Brown, a high school student who died while texting & driving in 2010.
San Antonio Councilman Mike Gallagher said he pushed through a local handheld ban because “distracted driving is actually causing more accidents than driving while intoxicated, so we’ve got to do something about this.” The ban was approved Nov. 6 and goes into effect Jan. 1. Read the San Antonio cell phone legislation.
Cibolo is exploring a ban on use of handheld cell phones while driving in city limits. The proposal is up for discussion, but not a vote, as of mid-October. The ordinance would require drivers to keep one hand on the wheel at all times. Fines would range from $25 to $250. The city is near San Antonio, which plans to upgrade its distracted driving law (below).
Under Austin’s upcoming handheld cell phone law, motorists will be able to use their electronic devices when the vehicle is completely stopped. (The original plan barred use at stop lights and red lights but it was revised before the late August vote to enact the new law.) The unanimous City Council vote of Aug. 28 followed the recommendations of a study group, which argued that police find it difficult to determine if drivers are texting — which is against current local law — or dialing a phone number, which is not. “Austin is commonly cited as one of the most congested cities, and we are taking steps to reduce crashes and the number of injuries,” said Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley, a member of the study group.
In Denton, a ban on texting while driving was to go into effect May 20 with a fine of $200 but a lack of advisory signs delayed the beginning of enforcement. The City Council approved the new local law May 6. The council was encouraged to extend the effort to handheld cell phones, but did not. As a result, one traffic safety panel member resigned on the spot, saying the Denton council showed “no fortitude in dealing with this deadly problem.”
The city of Pecos has enacted a texting & driving ordinance. The City Council approved the local text messaging law in late February. The fine tops out at $200. “It’s become almost crazy out there with … all kinds of people texting and driving,” one council member said at a Jan. 23 meeting. The city of Farmers Branch approved its ban in late March.
Texas’ top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Greg Abbott, says he isn’t interested in a law that would “micromanage adult driving behavior.” He’s the heavy favorite to win the 2014 race for governor. His opponent, Wendy Davis, tried to push through a texting bill while in the Senate.
In 2013, Austin police wrote 366 tickets for texting & driving.
The city of Farmers Branch’s ban on texting & driving goes into full effect in early summer, with warnings being handed out until then. The ordinance also bars use of the Internet and social media apps.
Corpus Christi’s new ban on texting and handheld cell phone use yielded 161 tickets in the first month of enforcement, police said in mid-December. Offenders paid fines up to $500 with traffic school required. The ordinance, which includes talking, texting and GPS use of handheld devices, was approved by the City Council on Oct. 8. A monthlong warning period followed.
Amarillo police wrote about 180 tickets for handheld communications devices while driving in the first 16 months of its ordinance, they said in early February. Fines for Amarillo distracted driving violations are up to $200. Amarillo’s mayor has said he wasn’t unhappy that the statewide texting bill failed, because it would have overwritten the more comprehensive local distracted driving law.
In 2013, Texas saw 94,943 crashes linked to distracted driving, officials say. The wrecks led to 459 deaths and 18,576 serious injuries, the Department of Transportation reported.
2013 distracted driving notes:
Grand Prairie has adopted a texting & driving ban, with fines up to $200. The ordinance, which went into effect Sept. 1, effectively bans all uses of handheld mobile phones by drivers except for making phone calls.
“When the state did not pass such a law in the last session, we felt it important for the safety of our streets and drivers to move forward with such a law in Grand Prairie,” said Chief of Police Steve Dye.
The TxDOT linked distracted driving to 90,378 crashes in 2012. Fatalities numbered 453, with serious injuries put at 18,468.
State Rep. Tom Craddick says he’ll try again with distracted driving legislation in 2015 if he is re-elected. “My legislative agenda includes passing a statewide texting while driving law to make our roads safer for drivers and all Texans,” the Republican said in announcing his re-election bid. His opponent, a Libertarian, charges Craddick’s efforts to ban texting are an “overreach.” The incumbent, a conservative, replied: “It’s my right to go on a highway and have a safe ride.” The primary is in March 2014 and the election is in November.
Corpus Christi’s City Council approved a handheld cell phone ban Oct. 8. The ordinance went into effect immediately, but a 30-day waiting period ran through early November. Police are empowered to stop and cite offenders. The ordinance, which includes talking, texting and GPS use of handheld devices, cleared the first council vote Sept. 24. Fines top out at $500 but most are paying $300. “This is not something we’re doing to try and make money; we’re doing it to save lives,” one council member said.
The Grand Prairie area school system cheered the city’s new texting ban, noting that two buses had been hit by texting drivers. Signs warning of the law are going up at four local high schools.
Lubbock’s City Council was nearing a vote on a texting while driving ordinance, but Mayor Pro Tem Karen Gibson abruptly withdrew her proposal June 13, saying she needed to “clean up” language in the draft. The move came after public comments. Fines would be up to $200. Gibson and two councilmen are pushing for the Lubbock texting law.
Statewide, drivers under the age of 18 are limited to one passenger under age 21 under new rules that took effect Sept. 1. Teens also will be prohibited from driving between midnight and 5 a.m. in most cases. Like the majority of states, Texas prohibits drivers under age 18 from using wireless communications devices.
The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee refused to bring state Rep. Tom Craddick’s House Bill 63 to a vote, effectively killing the plan for a statewide texting & driving law. The chairman, Sen. Robert Nichols, said May 24 that the legislation faced a “likely veto” from the governor, making a vote a waste of time. Gov. Rick Perry vetoed Craddick’s plan in 2011.
Craddick’s proposed texting ban won final approval by the full House on April 18. That vote was 97-45. Prior to the vote, a spokesman for Gov. Perry restated Perry’s opposition to a texting law, telling the AP, “The key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is information and education, not government micromanagement.”
Craddick said the death of his 2013 texting & driving bill “is very disappointing, not just for me but for the state,” Craddick said. “A lot of groups across the state, and even AT&T and other phone companies, they all endorsed it, and so did cities — they all felt that a statewide ban was necessary.”
Craddick, R-Midland, says more legislators were eager to co-sponsor the bill than two years ago, when his texting bill was vetoed by Perry. “I’ve had more people walk up to me and say, ‘Can I sign your bill? Can I co-sponsor your bill?’ ”
House Bill 63 and Senate Bill 28 were named in memory of Alex Brown, a high school student who died while texting & driving in 2010.
Amarillo’s mayor said he wasn’t unhappy that the texting bill failed, because it would have overwritten the local law. “Our ordinance is more enforceable and more comprehensive,” Mayor Paul Harpole said. El Paso would have kept its ordinance because a local rep amended the texting bill to ensure it wouldn’t supersede his city’s law.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker says she’ll push for a local ordinance banning text messaging while driving if the state Legislature again fails in its efforts to get a statewide texting law. The mayor used the occasion of Distracted Driving Awareness month to launch the program “It Can Wait, Houston,” backed by a city task force. “I refuse to put my life and the lives of others at risk,” Parker said at a press event April 2. Rapper Bun B of UGK fame was on hand to lend some “street cred.” Texting & driving is like “Russian roulette,” said Bun B, who made a PSA video with the mayor. Read a draft of the Houston texting ordinance (PDF).
Edinburg has erected signs notifying drivers of the city’s ban on texting while behind the wheel. Tickets up to $500. The ordinance, which went into effect late last year, came at the urging of local high school students who took a no-texting pledge. Police have issued “dozens” of tickets, they said in late March 2013.
A flurry of amendments were considered in the House during the three hours of debate on HB 63 on April 17, with five of the 11 amendments adopted. A proposal to downgrade the text messaging ban to secondary enforcement was narrowly defeated. The amendment’s author expressed fears of racial profiling in traffic stops made under the law.
Craddick calls HB 63 “the big bipartisan bill of the session.”
Several distracted driving measures received a public hearing before the House Transportation Committee in late February. Survivors and family members stricken by distracted driving deaths testified, including Jennifer Zamora Jamison, who lost her husband in a texting crash. She told lawmakers: “It’s an epidemic. It’s arrogance. It’s ignorance. It’s negligence.”
The public hearing for the texting bill HB 63 brought forward the usual concerns about personal freedom, the effectiveness of distracted driving laws, and the increased dangers of racial-profiling traffic stops. “You’re infringing on my rights, to be truthful, when you’re texting and driving, on my right to be safe on the road,” sponsor Rep. Tom Craddick responded Feb. 26.
The Texas A&M Transportation Institute is conducting an extensive study on the use of cell phones by Texas drivers, and other forms of distracted driving. The survey of about 3,000 drivers is being funded by the the United Services Automobile Association (USAA). Study leader Katie Womack focus groups will also be conducted “to explain in greater detail the thought processes and behavior motivations underlying texting, cell phone use, and other distractions while driving.”
A Round Rock city councilman has proposed “texting zones,” in which motorists could pull over and use their handheld electronic devices such as smartphones. Councilman John Moman reportedly is consulting with the DOT to see if the idea could be funded. Round Rock is about 15 miles north of Austin, which has its own distracted driving law.
Several bills filed for the 2013 legislative session seek to allow drivers stopped by police to display their insurance information on their mobile phones.
2013 distracted driving legislation (dead):
House Bill 63: Would prohibit text messaging with handheld wireless communications devices. Entry of phone numbers and hands-free texting OK. Favorable report by Transportation Committee (6-1 vote) on March 5, following public hearing of Feb. 26. Amended and approved by the House in a 98-47 vote taken April 17. Final House approval April 18 (97-45 vote). Latest legislative action: “Left pending” in the Senate Transportation Committee as of May 24. Dead. (Craddick)
HB 347: Would ban use of handheld wireless communications devices while driving through school crossing zones and on any school property. Public hearing Feb. 26. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of March 19. (Pitts)
HB 27: Would outlaw text messaging for all drivers whose vehicles are in motion. Fines at least $2. Provides for increased penalties of up to $400 if the driver is in a school zone. “No action taken in committee” after public hearing Feb. 26. (Fischer)
HB 41: Bars drivers from using a wireless communication device unless vehicle is in park. Hands-free operation allowed. Fines from $25 to $100 unless violation is in a school zone, in which case penalties run from $125-200. “Left pending in committee” after public hearing Feb. 26. (Menendez)
HB 69: Would ban text messaging on wireless communications devices. Texting OK if voice-controlled and display is on dashboard or similar. Also known as the Alex Brown Memorial Act. (Lucio)
HB 108: Would ban text messaging on handheld devices. Entry of phone numbers and hands-free texting allowed. (Harless)
Senate Bill 28: Would prohibit drivers using a handheld wireless device to read, write, or send text messages. (Zaffirini)
2012 distracted driving notes:
Of the state’s 3,048 traffic fatalities in 2011, distracted driving ranks third on the list of causes. In 2012, about 2,545 fatalities had been logged as of November, the Texas Department of Transportation said in its latest traffic safety report.
Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, says his House Bill 63 for the 2013 session “will provide a uniform statewide approach to curb this unsafe practice and will go a long way in helping educate drivers on the dangers posed by texting while driving and save lives.”
Craddick’s HB 243 (later HB 242) of 2011 was the texting & driving plan vetoed by the governor.
“It is time for Texas to join the other 39 states and the District of Columbia to ban this dangerous behavior for all drivers,” Craddick said Nov. 12 upon prefiling the texting legislation for the 2013 session. “The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to make our roadways safer.”
The full Legislature didn’t meet in 2012 and returned Jan. 8, 2013. Texas is one of 11 states without a ban on text messaging by all drivers.
TxDOT issued a safety advisory about work zones on more than 100 miles of I-35. “We just need to put our cell phones down, buckle our seat belts and focus on driving safely,” said John Barton, TxDOT’s deputy executive director, in late December.
Fort Worth’s Police Department has barred its officers from most uses of dashboard computers while driving. The policy of November 2012 followed a local TV report that distracted driving led to 15 police car crashes over the past three years.
Meanwhile, Houston-area police departments are writing few citations under their local distracted driving laws, a local TV report said. “Laws have to be enforced for it to work,” said State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston-area lawmaker who supports a statewide ban on text messaging. El Paso, which has a handheld cell phone law, is an exception, handing out 15,000 tickets in under two years, KRPC said in its report on slack enforcement of local texting laws.
Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson says the city is looking into a distracted driving ordinance.
Amarillo’s ban on texting and handheld cell phone use by drivers was approved Sept. 18, 2012, and went into effect in October. Drivers are barred from using cell phones without hands-free accessories, GPS systems, video games and similar portable electronic devices. Fines are up to $200 for the non-moving traffic offense. Final approval ended a long series of debates and preliminary votes on the distracted driving law. “This is getting ridiculous,” one traffic commissioner said of the protracted deliberations. “We’re really wasting a lot of people’s time.” Amarillo previously outlawed texting by drivers in school districts (see 2011 item below).
Amarillo city councilman Brian Eades said just before the 4-1 hands-free vote: “We (all) see people texting through green lights, we see people swerving through lanes, driving 70 while texting,” city councilman Brian Eades told the City Council before the vote. Earlier, the Amarillo Star editorialized against the pending distracted driving ordinance: “It hasn’t yet been determined that most auto accidents are caused by cellphone use — let alone those accidents that cause serious injury.”
The city of Magnolia reports that auto crashes are down by more than half in the year since it adopted a ban on texting and driving. Police have blamed several crashes on texting. They issued about 35 citations in the 2011 ordinance’s first year. “I have heard nothing but positive feedback from residents,” Magnolia’s mayor said in September 2012.
The Canyon City Commission voted May 7 to ban text messaging while driving. The law goes into effect Aug. 1, with fines up to $200. A public information campaign is leading up to the launch of the local distracted driving law.
San Antonio’s school district fired a school bus driver in January after he was caught texting while transporting students. Texting and driving is illegal in the city.
El Paso police wrote more than 10,850 tickets for use of handheld cell phones in the second year of that city’s ban on handheld cell phone use while driving (April 1, 2011-March 31, 2012). That’s up from 7,209 in the law’s first year.
2011 distracted driving notes:
The Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry wasn’t singling out distracted driving legislation for his vetoes. He killed another 22 bills June 17, 2011, with a personal best (or worst) of 83 bills vetoed back in 2000.
The text messaging bill he vetoed (HB 242) was given final legislative approval by the Senate and House in the late hours of May 29. The governor said people who supported the safety legislation should instead “work with state and local leaders to educate the public of these dangers.”
Perry called the distracted driving legislation a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” That veto came June 17, 2011. The law would have taken effect Sept. 1, 2011.
“The keys to dissuading drivers of all ages from texting while driving are information and education,” Perry said in his veto statement. He was campaigning for president at the time, wooing voters on the right.
Nacogdoches is the latest city in Texas to prohibit electronic messaging while driving. The ordinance should take effect in November, city officials said. Fines will top out at $500. The City Council vote came Oct. 18.
Odessa’s City Council rejected a proposed ban on texting while driving. There was no vote; no council member would second the motion to approve. The move reportedly didn’t sit well with citizens attending the meeting. One supporter of the ordinance, a former council member, was so upset he was escorted from the room by security.
Arlington’s City Council voted to ban text messaging while driving, in a 4-3 vote on Aug. 15, 2011. The proposed distracted driving ordinance is expected to win the final vote, expected in September. Fines would be $200.
Amarillo’s ban on use of cell phones while driving in school zones is now in effect. The law went into effect Aug. 22, at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year. First-time offenders are looking at a hit of $158, after fines and fees.
Kilgore’s City Council deadlocked on a plan to ban text messaging and handheld cell phone use while driving on July 26. The mayor then cast the deciding vote, killing the proposed ordinance. “Sure wish the state would have done something,” said the mayor, Ronnie Spradlin.
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck is pushing for a municipal ban on text messaging while driving, as well as related behaviors such as playing computer games on smartphones. Handheld cell phones could be in the mix as well. “Distracted driving is a dangerous thing, just like driving while intoxicated,” Cluck said after the governor vetoed a statewide texting ban. The City Council is expected to take up the matter in August. A similar bid for an Arlington distracted driving law failed a year ago. “It’s going to make some people upset,” the mayor conceded.
Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, authored state legislation that would have banned texting while driving, but the vetoed House Bill 242 wasn’t it. The original measure stalled, and so the ban was tacked on to another, unrelated Craddick bill (via amendment) in the Legislature’s final days.
Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, found an alternate route for the text messaging and driving ban envisioned in her stalled SB 46. She amended the wording onto an unrelated bill, HB 242, which then passed the Senate. Zaffirini’s maneuver had bipartisan support in a May 25 vote. “No text message or e-mail is important enough to risk injury or death on the road,” she said. “(The life saved) could be someone you love dearly.” The bill cleared the Legislature in the session’s final hours (May 29) and was sent to the governor.
Both the Austin and San Antonio police departments sent representatives to testify May 16 in support of House Bill 243, which was under consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee. Several victims of distracted driving testified as well.
“A lot of people are being killed because of texting,” says Rep. Tom Craddick, the conservative author of HB 243. “It’s a function of safety and saving people’s lives. That’s what it’s all about.”
Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, succeeded April 7 in having HB 243 amended to prohibit only the typing and sending of text messages, not the reading of incoming texts. “Just looking down briefly at your phone — I don’t want to be pulled over as a criminal,” Taylor said. Craddick and Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, tried but failed to derail the amendment, with Lucio noting that police would have to determine whether a driver was reading or typing — an “administrative nightmare.”
Craddick collapsed while testifying on his HB 243 before the House Committee on Transportation. He apparently had a bad reaction to medicine for an infected tooth. The March 9 hearing was postponed.
Text messaging and cell phone use while driving are bigger problems than five years ago, Texas motorists say. 85 of drivers interviewed said text messaging was worse, while 80 percent agreed that cell phone use had become a bigger problem than a half decade ago. (The Texas Transportation Institute interviewed 1,167 motorists at Texas Department of Public Safety Driver License Offices in fall 2010.) Supporters of a ban on handheld cell phone use while driving outnumber opponents by a two-to-one margin. Aggressive driving ranked with distracted driving as a danger cited by the drivers. (View a video about the Texas driver safety survey.)
El Paso’s ban on texting and talking on a cell phone while driving has yielded more than 6,435 tickets as of March 11, as the law’s first anniversary approaches. The City Council approved the ban on March 9, 2010, but ticketing did not begin until April 1. Hands-free cell phones OK. Fines typically $114 but can run up to $500. El Paso already outlawed use of handheld cell phones in school zones.
The city of McAllen banned text messaging while driving and related Internet activity. Violations of the new McAllen ordinance could bring fines of as much as $200. The Jan. 24, 2011, vote by city commissioners was unanimous.
Alvin has just began enforcing its ban on texting and use of cell phones while driving through school zones. The ordinance was approved several years ago, but enforcement dragged out as the city awaited the posting of warning signs at schools.
2011 distracted driving legislation (dead):
HB 242: Wording that would ban texting while driving was added to this unrelated bill via a Senate amendment of May 25. The amended bill would prohibit a driver from reading, writing or sending a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle, unless the vehicle is stopped. HB 242, which concerns firearms use by retired peace officers, was sponsored by Rep. Tom Craddick, whose HB 243 sought to ban text messaging while driving. HB 243 was approved in the House, but failed to make it through committee in the Senate. Sen. Judith Zaffirini added the texting amendment to HB 242, which essentially revives her SB 46 (below). The amendment was approved in a 19-10 vote on May 25. Latest legislative action: HB 242 was approved by the Senate (28-3) and House (80-61) in late-night votes May 29 and then transmitted to the governor. Vetoed by the governor June 17. Dead. (Craddick)
House Bill 243: Text messaging outlawed for all drivers of motor vehicles. Includes IMs and email. Amended before the first House vote to remove drivers’ reading of text messages as a prohibited activity. Fines: Up to $200. Approved by the House in a first-reading vote (124-16) taken April 7. Latest legislative action: Final OK from the House in a 107-16 vote on April 8. Sent to the Senate on April 11 and under consideration in the Transportation Committee. “Left pending in committee” after public hearing of May 16. Dead. (Craddick)
HB 37: Prohibits drivers from using a wireless communication device unless vehicle is in park. Hands-free operation allowed. Fines from $20 to $100 unless violation is in a school zone, in which case penalties run from $125-200. “Left pending” in Transportation Committee. Dead. (Menendez)
HB 93: Would outlaw reading, writing and sending of text messages by all drivers. Hands-free texting OK. Fines: $100 then $150 (second violation) and then $200. For injury crashes, a second-degree felony applies; third degree if death results. “No action taken” in Transportation Committee. Dead. (Cook)
HB 103: Would prohibit drivers from using of wireless communication devices to read, write, or send a text message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. Provides for increased penalties of up to $400 if the driver is in a school zone. “No action taken” in Transportation Committee. Dead. (Martinez Fischer)
HB 105: Would outlaw text messaging while driving in Texas unless vehicle is stopped. Fine $200. (Brown)
HB 288: Would extend the texting ban on drivers of passenger buses to include various commercial forms of transport such as vehicles owned by facilities for health care, disabled riders or the elderly.
HB 676: Would prevent drivers from using handheld wireless communications devices while stopped for a school bus that has passengers boarding or exiting. Hands-free OK. (Lucio)
Texas Senate Bill 46: Would prohibit drivers from using wireless communication devices to read, write, or send a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. Includes email. See HB 242, above. (Zaffirini)
SB 119: Seeks to outlaw use of handheld wireless devices to read, send or compose text messages while driving in Texas, unless the vehicle is stopped. “Left pending” in Transportation Committee. (Uresti)
SB 138: Seeks to ban use of handheld wireless devices unless a hands-free attachment is employed. “Left pending in committee.” (Wentworth)
2010 distracted driving notes:
Use of cell phones while driving played a part in 3,409 crashes in 2010, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Fatalities linked to talking & driving numbered 46.
San Antonio’s ban on texting and driving became law Oct. 15, 2010, with a 90-day warning period that ended in mid-January 2011. The City Council gave final approval to the distracted driving ordinance on Oct. 7. Fines of up to $200. Councilman Phil Cortez pushed through the ban. Basically, drivers are permitted to make phone calls with wireless handheld devices, but nothing else. The University of Texas at San Antonio plans to enforce the city law on campus as well.
State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, prefiled SB 119 for the 2011 legislative session, seeking a ban on text messaging and driving while vehicles are in motion.
Missouri City’s ban on texting while driving went into effect June 1, 2010. Law applies when vehicle is stopped. Fines up to $500. The city posted traffic signs stating: “No Texts Emails or Apps While Driving.”
College Station’s City Council considered a ban on texting and driving, but decided to see what emerged from the 2011 legislative session.
Stephenville has banned text messaging and use of handheld cell phones while driving. The City Council considered a plan to ban all cell phone use by motorists, but rejected it during the April 6 voting. Fines will be up to $200.
Galveston has banned text messaging while driving within city limits. Fines up to $500. The City Council voted to outlaw texting for motorists on Jan. 14 and the ban went into effect immediately.
League City’s plan to ban texting and handheld cell phone use while driving has been put on hold. The city attorney cited “legal issues.”
Arlington’s City Council refused to consider a ban on text messaging while driving. (Update above, in 2011 notes.)
2009 Texas legislation:
Texas House Bill 55: Outlaws use of handheld devices in school crossing zones. Would prohibit cell phone use by passenger bus drivers transporting minors unless the bus is stopped (minor wording change). Legislature gave final approval on May 29 and the governor signed it into law on June 19. The law became effective Sept. 1, 2009.
Texas House Bill 339: Prohibits drivers under the age of 17 with restricted licenses from using wireless communications devices, including cell phones and text messaging devices. Bill addresses numerous driver education issues in Texas. Approved by the House on May 6, 2009, and by the Senate on May 25. Legislature gave final approval on May 29 and the governor signed it into law on June 19. Law became effective Sept. 1, 2009.
Texas House Bill 662: Would outlaw the use of cell phones by drivers under the age of 18 unless a hands-free accessory is engaged. On Approved by the full Texas House on May 15 and sent to the Senate. Left in committee.
Texas Senate Bill 1077: Companion bill to HB 339 (above) has been approved in the Senate and by the Transportation Committee in the House (May 15).
Texas House Bill 1158: Would make fines at least double the minimum for infractions committed while driving and using a handheld cell phone. “Left pending in committee.”
Texas Senate Bill 582: Would prohibit drivers from using cell phones unless a hands-free accessory is engaged. Also would ban bus drivers from using wireless communication devices with a minor passenger onboard. “In committee” since Feb. 23.
Texas House Bill 1267: Would add text messaging to cell phone prohibitions on bus drivers. Also HB 1179. Both bills “left pending in committee.”
Texas Senate Bill 51: The legislation from state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would ban reading, writing and sending of text messages while operating a motor vehicle. It also would prohibit use of a wireless communication device for school bus drivers when a minor is present, except in emergencies. “In committee” since Feb. 10.
Texas House Bill 738: Would create an inattentive driving adjunct to existing laws that doubles fines for other traffic offenses. Cites a variety of behaviors such as texting, reading, writing, personal grooming, interacting with a passenger or pet. “Left pending in committee.”
Texas House Bill 758: Would prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones or texting while minors are aboard. “Left pending in committee.”
Texas House Bill 1649: Would ban drivers under the age of 18 from using wireless communication devices in the first six months of licensing, regardless of whether a hands-free device is attached. Also applies to motorcycle or moped drivers under the age of 17. “In committee”
Texas House Bill 220: Would ban use of handheld wireless devices for all drivers and use of all wireless devices for school bus drivers. “Left pending in committee.”
Texas House Bill 219: Would outlaw use of cell phones at school crossings. “Left pending in committee.”
More Texas legislation notes:
The Austin City Council approved a ban on texting while driving on Oct. 22, 2009, and then broadened it Dec. 17 to include other mobile devices, Internet surfing and use of all iPhone applications. Fines could be as high as $500. The law takes effect Jan. 1 and there will be a one-month warning period.
The city of Burnet has outlawed use of cell phones and texting devices in school zones. Fines will be $200. The Burnet City Council approved the ban on Oct. 27, 2009.
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, author of a handheld cell phone bill, says the House Transportation Committee simply isn’t moving these bills through. “I have tremendous amount of respect for Chairman Joe Pickett,” Martinez Fischer said. “But this doesn’t seem to be a priority in his committee.” Pickett responded that his committee was unable to resolve the overall issue of how to draw the line with distracted driving, a common position adopted by opponents of cell phone-driving bills. More accidents related to wireless devices could help the bills’ chances in 2011, Pickett told amarillo.com
The House aired the legislative debate over text messaging and cell phoning while driving on March 10, 2009. “People, I think, are watching us,” said HB 55 sponsor Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.
“We’re trying to find the right balance between public safety and, sort of, intrusion into civil liberties,” Branch told the House Committee on Transportation. The committee aboved Rep. Branch’s bill banning drivers from using cell phones in school zones.
Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, says of his HB 662: “This legislation will help limit distractions and keep teen drivers focused on the road. Teenagers already have enough on their minds as it is.”
“The communications companies have really come out strongly against my (handheld cell phone) bills in the past,” said Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, who authored HB 1649.
The Texas ACLU opposes laws restricting use of cell phones and texting devices: “That’s more of a public education issue,” its policy director said. “There’s always going to be something that’s distracting drivers.”
State Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, had planned to reintroduce in the 2009 session his bill that would require hands-free devices for drivers using cell phones. His bill passed the transportation committee in 2008 after testimony from a man whose wife was killed in an crash she caused while using a cell phone.
“It is probably going to take the whole Senate listening to that kind of testimony before we get a bill passed,” he told the Dallas Morning News.
Hollywood Park (San Antonio area) tabled a handheld cell phone ban on Feb. 17, 2009, saying: “Let the state make the decision.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety began tracking cell phone-related traffic accidents in 2000.
The Dallas council approved installing cellphone-ban warning signs throughout Dallas’ 651 school zones when it OK’d the prohibition in February 2008. Violators could be fined $200.
About two-thirds of Texas teenagers surveyed said they have talked on a cell phone while driving in the past six months, according to the state Transportation Institute. More than half said they had read or sent text messages while driving. A 2007 study said cell phone use was among the primary causes of fatal car crashes among teens.
Texas was one of the states hit with periodic email hoaxes about nonexistent cell phone driving laws.