Could Stricter Cell Phone Laws Help Save Texas Lives?

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Over the past decade, many states have instituted limitations on the extent that drivers can use their cell phones and mobile devices while driving. These laws were passed in the interest of reducing the likelihood of fatal car accidents on state roadways.

Some states, like New York and California, have strict laws that prohibit hand-held cell phone use and texting by all drivers. Other states, including Texas, have little or no restrictions on cell phone use while driving. A look at car crash statistics for these states may indicate that stricter laws targeting distracted driving may help save lives.

Cell Phone Bans: A Look at New York and California

New York and California have some of the strictest cell phone laws in the country. The two states prohibit hand-held cell phone use by all drivers. Each also bans texting, reading and sending e-mails while driving. The only way to use a phone while driving in these states is through Bluetooth wireless technology that responds to voice commands.

In both states, these actions are primary offenses, which means that drivers can be pulled over and cited if a law enforcement officer spots them violating the law.

Additionally, the state of California prohibits all cell phone use-including both hands-free and hand-held use-for school bus drivers and drivers under the age of 18. The complete ban is a primary offense for school bus drivers. For drivers under the age of 18, it is a secondary offense, meaning the driver must be committing another moving violation to be cited for cell phone use.

Do These Stricter Laws Make a Difference?

In California, almost two-thirds of participants in a state traffic safety survey reported that texting and talking on a cell phone are the state’s worst traffic safety problems. In light of this, local and state police officers have stepped up enforcement of the laws in recent years.

As more and more cell phone citations are given, drivers are improving their behavior and refraining from smartphone use while driving. There has been a decrease in both self-reporting of texting while driving and hand-held cell phone use while driving by 14.1 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively.

New York saw a remarkably low rate of cell phone accidents in the year immediately after the new laws came into effect. In that year (2010), there were only five accidents caused by texting while driving and 522 accidents caused by hand-held mobile phone use. Only one texting accident and five hand-held accidents were fatal.

How Does Texas Compare?

New York’s accident rates seem minuscule compared to the number of cell phone accidents that occurred in Texas during the same year. Cell phone use on the road caused some 3,400 accidents and the deaths of 46 people.

Texas has some of the most lenient cell phone laws in the country. In the Lone Star state, texting while driving and hand-held cell phone use is legal for all drivers except for novice drivers in their first year of having licensure and school bus drivers with passengers under the age of 17.

While Texans appreciate the state’s culture of individual freedom, the use of electronic devices leads to distraction behind the wheel and puts other drivers and road users in danger. Moreover, a lack of state cell phone laws also means the state misses out on crucial highway funding opportunities.

In New York, each cell phone offense results in a fine of $150, whereas in California the base fine for a first offense is $20, with subsequent offenses costing $50. These fines increase when penalties are assessed. These fines add up and contribute funding that can be used to improve infrastructure and other state needs.

If You Have Been Affected

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an accident caused by a driver who appeared to be distracted while talking or texting on a cell phone, contact our Austin injury lawyer. We know how to investigate motor vehicle accidents, and we will work aggressively to hold negligent drivers responsible for their actions. For a free consultation about your case, call our office at (512) 474-8346.