Even if you’ve been doing it for years, driving takes an enormous amount of concentration. Unfortunately, it’s easier than ever to get distracted. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 400,000 people are injured and about 3,000 people are killed each year in accidents caused by distracted drivers. In Texas, distracted driving is the second biggest cause of car crashes and is responsible for about one in five accidents across the state.
Distracted driving is a huge problem. Here’s what the state of Texas is doing about it.
Know the Distracted Driving Laws in Texas
States across the country have enacted distracted driving laws to try to reduce the number of injuries and deaths, and 48 states now explicitly ban texting and driving — including Texas. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, drivers in the state need to abide by the following laws about distracted driving:
It’s illegal to text and drive in Texas. This includes both sending and receiving/reading texts and any other electronic messages.
It’s illegal to use a cell phone or other handheld device while driving in a school zone.
It’s illegal for anyone under age 18 to use a cell phone or other handheld device while driving.
It’s illegal for drivers with learner’s permits to use cell phones during their first six months of driving.
It’s illegal for school bus drivers to use cell phones while driving when children are present.
In addition to these statewide laws, cell phone laws for drivers can vary from city to city. Many local laws prohibit handheld devices while driving. Unless you are using totally hands-free technology, it’s a good idea to check local rules while driving through areas of Texas that are unfamiliar to you.
How to Prevent Distracted Driving
So how can you be a safer driver? Try practicing these tips:
Keep your cell phone out of reach. Out of sight, out of mind is the best policy when it comes to your phone.
Check your phone's settings. Newer phones have "do not disturb" settings that mute calls and texts while you’re driving — some even sense when you’re in motion and turn on automatically.
Use hands-free options carefully. If your car allows you to operate your phone with voice commands, use this function selectively, as conversations can still be quite distracting while you’re on the road.
Keep the music low. Keep your radio turned to a lower volume so you don’t miss critical warnings or traffic situations.
Get a good night’s sleep. Driver fatigue makes it much harder to properly judge distance and maintain sharp reaction times. In fact, sleepy drivers have been shown to be just as dangerous as drunk drivers, so never drive when you’re tired.
Keep the food out of the car. Avoid picking up and fiddling with any objects so that your hands can stay on the wheel at all times.
What to Do if You’re Cited for Distracted Driving in Texas
In Texas, the fine for texting while driving can be up to $200 for a standard violation and up to $4,000 if you cause injury or death — not to mention possible jail time. In some situations, Texas law allows you to get your traffic ticket dismissed if you take a defensive driving course. You may be eligible if your offense is minor and meets certain requirements, such as not taking place in a construction zone.
To see if you qualify, you’ll need to request permission to take a defensive driving course from the court named on your citation. You will then need to bring the required paperwork to the court, enter your plea, and pay your fee. After you pass the course, you will need to submit your completion certificate to the court to finish the process.
Distracted driving isn’t safe, so the best thing you can do behind the wheel is to keep your eyes — and mind — on the road. Doing so will protect you and everyone else from harm.