In an effort to prevent car accidents, roughly 30 states have passed rules which restrict texting while driving, and that number is increasing each year. Texas currently does not have a statewide ban in place, although major cities within the state have passed their own rules preventing drivers from texting while driving. Legislators have attempted to pass bills in several prior sessions, but have had limited success.
Despite the challenges that prior legislation has faced, representatives expect that one of the measures will pass this session. The ten bills currently pending all contain provisions that would restrict drivers from sending or reading text messages or email while they are behind the wheel. One of the bills would also increase the fine to $400 for drivers caught sending or reading messages in school zones.
If the legislation passes, it would greatly expand the laws in place now. Currently, school bus drivers cannot use handheld cell phones when they have child passengers on board. Drivers who are in school zones are also prohibited from sending or reading text messages or talking on the phone. Additionally, drivers age 17 or younger who have a restricted license, as well as those who are within the first six months of a learner’s permit, are not allowed to use a handheld cell phone.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has focused on eliminating the causes of distracted driving. While critics contend that laws banning handheld cell phones have had little impact on accident rates and resulting injuries, it is difficult for officials to get an accurate reading on the scope of the problem. Distracted driving generally needs to be self-reported after an accident, and many drivers are unwilling to admit to cell phone use.
The Texas Transportation Institute surveyed over 1,100 drivers at license bureaus during 2010. Four out of five drivers surveyed feel that texting while driving has become a bigger problem than it was five years ago. The research also shows that the majority of drivers support a cell phone ban by a two-to-one margin.
With more citizens in favor of the rules, legislators are hopeful that a ban will be in place soon. Even if new laws take effect, there will still be many drivers who are distracted while behind the wheel. Cell phones are not the only items that divert attention from roads, and officials will need to take steps to stay current with the ever-changing technology.