On September 1, 2017, Texas H.B. Bill No. 62 took effect, which is a new law that prohibits texting while driving.1 Under the new Texas law, texting while driving and the use of a portable wireless device to read, write, or send an electronic message, while operating a vehicle, is now prohibited. Violations are punishable by a Class C misdemeanor. The fine for first time offenders is $25-$99 and $100-$200 for second time offenders. The new law does not preempt the existing state laws. ALL Texas drivers must comply with the new law.
Importantly, if a person violates the new law and causes the death or serious bodily injury of another, then he or she can be cited with a Class A misdemeanor, a fine not exceeding $4,000, and a jail sentence no longer than 1 year.
What usage is permitted:
Using cell phone and electronic devices with a hands free device is allowed. Such use includes using speakerphone capability, a telephone attachment, and a wireless communication device attached to the vehicle that allows usage without the use of the operator’s hands. Notably, drivers are still allowed to use their phones for:
· Using GPS;
· To report a crime;
· For emergency calls;
· To read a message that a person reasonably believed to be related to an emergency;
· To play music; and
· To enter information into a software application that provides information relating to traffic and road condition to users of the application.
To be prosecuted for using a cellular device to read, write, or send a text while driving, the use must be in the presence of or within the view of a peace officer, or established by other evidence. Typically, officers will seek an admission of portable wireless device use from an offender or look for some indication that a person is texting. For example, an officer might look for a person with his or her head down and swerving while operating a vehicle as probable cause to pull the person over for violation of the new law.
However, a peace officer who stops a vehicle for an alleged violation of the law may not take possession of or otherwise inspect the device in the possession of the driver without a subpoena or unless authorized by a code or other law. If a person attempts to fight the ticket in court, records of the person’s texting history can be subpoenaed.
Certain portable wireless device use, although imprudent, may allow a user to avoid prosecution. For example, texting at a red light is not unlawful since a person is not “operating” a vehicle at the time. Using a phone to make a call is also allowed under the new law. The intent of this new law is to reduce driver distraction and increase public safety.