Texas is famous for its fierce independence, and for years, we resisted legislation that banned texting and driving. We shouldn't have to legislate common sense, right? Or, as former governor Rick Perry said while vetoing a bill in 2011, do we need "a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults"? Unfortunately, some officials estimated that up to 100,000 Texas crashes per year involved distracted drivers. There are countless others whose lives have been utterly changed because someone decided that a tweet couldn't wait.
Eventually, Texas legislators got the message about texting and driving. In September of 2017, the Texas legislature passed a law that criminalized distracted driving, with fines of up to $200 per offense. Before the legislation passed, Texas was one of only four states without protections against distracted driving.
Before 2017, more than 100 Lone Star cities had already passed some type of texting-and-driving ban, but statewide legislation created needed clarity and continuity. More importantly, the legislation may have given a little more relief to those who've lost a loved one, or who have been injured themselves, by distracted drivers.
In Texas, distracted driving is "any activity that takes your attention away from driving. Distractions can include anything from texting and talking on a mobile phone to eating and drinking, putting on makeup, shaving, reading, programming a navigation system, watching a video, and even adjusting the radio." Texas statewide cell phone driving restrictions now include:
Despite the passage of texting laws, distracted driving is still a Texas-sized problem. We're still well above the national average for automobile fatalities. Problematically, the 2017 legislation is difficult to enforce. While the law bans sending and receiving electronic messages, it doesn't prohibit all distracted driving. You can still use your phone's map, search for the perfect playlist on Spotify, or flip through your radio stations at will. As a result, it's hard for law enforcement to know what exactly people are doing on their phones while they're driving.
These distracted driving loopholes are still playing out on Texas roadways. One out of every five accidents in Texas still involves distracted driving. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2018, there were more than 500,000 motor vehicle crashes. More than 95,000 of those involved distracted driving, including:
We Texans can do a better job of paying attention when we drive.
In Texas, the penalties for distracted driving are:
Keep in mind that car insurance rates may also increase with moving violations for distracted driving.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while texting can be more dangerous than driving with a blood-alcohol level of .08. So, what should you do if someone hits you while texting? First, be sure to call the police. You will want to report to the police that you believe the person who hit you was text messaging (texting). You should also take photos and document any physical damage, traffic signs the driver may have missed, as well as the road conditions. If you need medical treatment, be sure to seek care right away. Even if you feel ok, if someone offers you medical care, you should take it to ensure that you are ok.
In Texas, a driver who causes a crash while texting (sending a text message while driving) is responsible for the accident and liable for any reasonable damages caused. These damages may include physical damage caused to your car or any other property damaged in the accident, bills and out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident, rental car costs, medical bills, physical therapy, medical equipment, and possibly even mental anguish or emotional distress.
It can be challenging to prove a driver was texting without corroboration. For this reason, you should tell the police that you believe the driver was texting. If the police can corroborate this, they may issue a citation to the other driver, which they will record in the police report of the incident. If the police are unable to corroborate this, the driver's cell phone records may prove the driver was sending text messages. While their cell phone company won't release the records to you, they can release them to your attorney with a subpoena. If you're involved in a car accident involving texting, you may want to consult an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible.
The Texas Department of Transportation is also working to reduce distracted driving with its Talk, Text, Crash; #EndtheStreakTX; and "Heads Up, Texas" campaigns. Each of these state-funded campaigns focuses on teaching the public the hazards of text messages and distracted driving.
Texas's 2017 legislation saves lives, but the law could do more. Of course, if you lose a loved one to someone's urgent need to record a video while driving, you can always go after them in court. We've all had our jaws drop at the size of some jury verdicts with high-profile defendants. Still, in reality, it's challenging to receive a monetary judgment in court for damages from a distracted driving car accident. And really, no monetary compensation can genuinely make up for the loss of someone you love.
There is nothing wrong with Texas exceptionalism. But we all want to be exceptional for the right reasons.