As of today, Sept. 1, Texas police officers can pull people over and give them tickets for texting and driving. Those busted will face fines of up to $99 for a first offense and $200 for a second offense.
Advocates against handheld phone use say the new law will save the lives of both would-be distracted drivers and the people they might have struck in accidents.
"The new law will help reduce crashes, save lives, and make Texas roads safer for everyone," Kent Livesay, vice president and general manager of AAA Texas, said in a statement. "This new law will make travel safer for every Texan."
Texas' new ban is far from comprehensive. It outlaws reading, writing or sending a text message while driving. Other forms of hand-held phone use, such as using GPS maps, selecting songs on Spotify or making phone calls, are still legal, and getting busted for texting would not lead to points being placed on someone's driver's license, as happens when a person gets caught speeding. Opponents of the bill have complained that it's going to be hard for officers to tell the difference between legal and illegal phone use.
"I find it absolutely incredulous, except for Superman, who can tell what you are doing on your phone," Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston Democrat, said during the debate over the bill. "I think this bill falls short of where this legislature can get to as far as texting and driving."
The author of Texas' ban, longtime House member and former House Speaker Tom Craddick, began trying to ban texting and driving six years ago after a high school senior in his district died in a texting and driving accident. In 2011, Craddick's bill passed the Texas House and Senate before Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it.
In Dallas, it isn't clear how much the law will change the behavior of the city's traffic officers. While the Dallas Police Department supported the legislature's efforts to create a comprehensive texting and driving ban, Maj. Danny Williams said in March that DPD officers usually can pull over drivers distracted by phones for alternate reasons like impeding traffic by driving too slowly, failing to signal a lane change or following the car in front of them too closely.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, 455 people were killed and 3,000 people were seriously injured in distracted driving accidents in 2016. In addition to the new texting ban, state law already banned handheld cellphone use in school zones. Drivers younger than 18 are also banned from using phones on the road.
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