Texting and Driving in Texas. How bad is it?
Every day we are surrounded by drivers who are talking away on their cell phones, texting while driving or catching up on their Facebook feed. A lot of us understand that distracted driving is bad but fail to take a look in the mirror when it comes to distracted driving. We can handle it, we say, we are good multitaskers. We always keep one eye on the road while we text and drive. Does this sound like you? I am not proud to admit that at one time, I have held these views.
We all know that distracted driving is dangerous, but just how dangerous is it? The following are the reported deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving reported in 2018:
- Nation: 4,637 Deaths and over 400,000 Serious Injuries
- Texas: 394 Deaths and 2,340 Serious Injuries
Anything that diverts a driver’s attention away from the road contributes to distracted driving. The most obvious and pervasive distracted driving risk is by operating a mobile device while driving, but there are numerous situations and objects inside a vehicle that can lead to distracted driving. Distracted driving occurs when a driver’s attention is diverted away from driving by a secondary task that requires focusing on an object, event, or person not related to the driving task. Even when a driver thinks she is “looking” at the road, she may not be “seeing” the road. Distracted driving takes the driver’s mind off of the task at hand—operating the vehicle. Distracted drivers engage in “intentional blindness” because they fail to notice and respond to the visual cues. Someone driving while on a cell phone may see a road construction sign, but fail to process that he needs to stop because of intentional blindness.
When it comes to the ability to multitask while driving, virtually everyone gets a failing grade. While driving 55 MPH, a car covers in excess of 80 feet every second. When a person sends a text or reads a message, the driver can take his eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. In that time, the driver will travel the length of a football field without any visual guidance. The overall crash risk increases 3.6 times when a driver uses his or her mobile phone while driving versus a person who engages in model driving. Distracted driving is a pervasive problem. Studies show that nearly one-third of all drivers between the age of 16-64 read or send text or email messages while driving. Another study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that drivers of passenger vehicles are distracted more than 50% of the time. This distraction doubles the risk of crashing. According to the study, nearly 70% of the crashes the researchers analyzed involved some type of observable distraction. We owe it to ourselves, to our families, to our passengers and to the motoring public not to drive distracted. I will be the first person to admit that I have texted or talked while driving. Maybe I was late to court and needed to send a quick email to my assistant. Maybe I was checking in at the house to see what we were having for dinner. It has dawned on me through my experience representing people who have been injured because of distracted driving that there is zero wiggle room when it comes to texting or talking while driving. Whatever the excuse, there is simply no reason that I, nor anyone else, should have been doing it. I have personally taken the pledge to not drive distracted. When I get in my car, I place the phone in the arm rest compartment and don’t take it out until I have arrived at my destination. Effective September 1, 2017, Texas enacted a statewide ban on texting and driving. According to the newly enacted Section 545.4251(b) of the Texas Transportation Code, “[a]n operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.” Under the new state law, a person can still use his or her phone to talk hands-free. Also, the new state law provides that a person may use a device to play music, operate a GPS, report a crime and in case of an emergency.
Under existing law, drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using a phone or wireless communication device at any time while operating a motor vehicle except in the case of an emergency.
The texting ban does not replace stricter ordinances in place in at least 45 other Texas cities (such as Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso). Those city ordinances are still in effect and have a complete cell phone ban. So, depending on what city you are driving in, there may be a complete cell phone ban.
El Paso is one of the cities that goes beyond the statewide texting and driving ban. El Paso City Code 12.22 provides, “An operator of a motor vehicle may not use a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.”