If passed, Texas will join 39 other states with bans on "texting" while driving.
Currently, Texas has limited restrictions on distracted driving. It is currently illegal for drivers to drive and operate a handheld communications device within the first 12 months of having a license.
Also, Texas bans the use of cell phones and other hand-held portable communications devices while driving in a school zone. In addition, bus drivers are banned from using these devices while any passenger under 17 is on the vehicle.
The new law will expand the ban to all drivers within the state.
The law will allow for hand-free device use. It also allows for certain special circumstances for defense against the charge. These mostly concentrate around emergency communications with police and rescue personnel. The other main exception is to operate a GPS device or similar function on a phone or tablet.
(c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (b) that:
(1) the operator used a handheld wireless communication device:
(A) to read, select, or enter a telephone number or name for the purpose of making a telephone call;
(B) in conjunction with voice-operated technology, a push-to-talk function, or a hands-free device, as defined by Section 545.425;
(C) to navigate using a global positioning system or navigation service;
(D) to report illegal activity or summon emergency help; or
(E) to read a text-based communication:
(i) that the person reasonably believes concerns an emergency; or
(ii) that concerns an emergency regardless of the person's belief; or
The offense will be a misdemeanor charge carrying a maximum $100 fine for a first offense.
SECTION 2. Section 545.424, Transportation Code, is amended by adding Subsection (g) to read as follows:
(g) An offense under Subsection (a) or (b) is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $100 unless it is shown on the trial of the offense that the defendant has been previously convicted at least one time of an offense under this section, in which event the offense is punishable by a fine of not more than $200.
The bill specifically states that police officers may not take possession of or handle these devices without a warrant or explicit permission of the device's owner. However, the law does allow for subpoena of records from telecommunications companies in order to prosecute the cases.
In recent years, distracted driving has become a major concern among many citizens. Some studies indicate that distracted driving has surpassed driving while impaired or driving drunk as a primary factor in collisions and injuries.
The full bill is available here.