CELL PHONE USE
One in five crashes involves driver distraction. And those drivers who use cell phones in their vehicles have an even higher risk of collision than drivers who don’t. The safest policy is to drive now and use your cell phone later. If you must make a call or text, pull over or wait until you reach your destination.
U.S. HANDS-FREE LAWS
Although there is currently no federal law in the U.S. banning cell phone use while driving, many states have their own laws in place. This is because distraction laws actually fall under the jurisdiction of individual states. And, many states that do not have a state law are enforcing individual city ordinances that cover the distraction issue. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia prohibit new drivers or novice drivers from using electronic devices while driving for a period of time (some for up to 6 months after they are issued their driver license and some until they are 18 years of age). 21 states and D.C. ban hand held cell phone use for ALL drivers and 48 states and D.C. ban texting while driving.
Again, while there is no federal law prohibiting cell phone use while driving, there are federal laws prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving and conducting government business (on the job). Especially while using government equipment. In addition, anyone with a Commercial Driver License, such as a big rig truck driver, is banned from texting while behind the wheel. Most states prohibit any bus driver from cell phone use while driving.
In 2001, New York was the first state to ban cell phone use while driving. And, one should expect that the cell phone law will evolve much like our seat belt law did. That law also started in New York and worked its way, state-by-state, from the right coast to left coast. It eventually became a federal law in 1986. Currently, 21 states are completely hands-free, 7 states are partially hands-free (meaning they have individual city ordinances that are, or are not hands-free) and 22 states that have no hands-free laws, whatsoever. Texting while driving in banned in all states, except Montana. And Missouri is only partially enforcing it with some city ordinances.
To view the most current list of individual laws, by state, as found on the GHSA (Governors Highway Safety Association), click here.
TEXAS HANDS-FREE LAW
Texas is currently one of those states in the U.S. that does not have a hands-free state law. Every two years a bill is proposed, banning the use of hand-held electronic devices while driving. But, unfortunately, it never takes. A statewide texting ban on using a wireless communications device for electronic messaging while operating a motor vehicle did become a state law in September, 2017. Texting as well as reading or writing email is prohibited while driving in Texas. Fines increase for repeat offenders, though no points will be assigned to their driving record. I suppose that is why I have yet to see a citation for it in my defensive driving class. So, I was suspicious as to whether this law is actually being enforced, but that is likely why. I do, although, see citations in my defensive driving class for cell phone use in an active school zone when yellow lights are flashing and children are present.
Prior to Texas’ 2017 texting ban, there were many towns and cities with their own city ordinances “no texting or scrolling for a phone number.” These ordinances still allowed someone to talk on the phone, even old school (up to their ear), but if a driver wanted to look away or monkey with a hand-held device (read, text, update gps, etc.) they must be pulled off the roadway to do so. So, when the no texting state law went into effect, that virtually made those city ordinances redundant, therefore those cities with ordinances in place chose to become hands-free. This means they completely limit any cell phone use while driving.
So, although Texas does not have a hands-free state law, there are many cities in Texas that are hands-free. And, if caught, they offer up some hefty fines. Austin and San Antonio have been hands-free since January of 2015. El Paso and Amarillo followed soon after. Below is the outline of Cell Phone Prohibitions in Texas, according to state law.
- Drivers cannot send or receive electronic messages in Texas.
- Drivers with learner’s permits are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving.
- Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communication devices.
- School bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present.
- In school zones, all drivers are prohibited from texting and using handheld devices while driving.
- Local restrictions: Drivers should become familiar with any ordinances in effect in their local areas. Drivers should contact their local municipality to determine if there are additional laws governing the use of cell phones.
Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find an updated list of towns and cities in the Lone Star State that ban electronic device use while driving. I have spoken to the Texas Department of Public Safety and they instructed me to contact each individual city to inquire. Yikes! That’s 3357 phone calls…so, you’re welcome to call each of them if you like! Here are 47 cities which do have a hands-free ordinance: Alice, Amarillo, Anthony, Aransas Pass, Argyle, Arlington, Austin, Bedford, Bee Cave, Boerne, Buda, Corpus Christi, Deer Park, Denton, El Paso, Floresville, Garden Ridge, Grand Prairie, Highland Park, Hill Country Village, Hurst, Kingsville, Kyle, Lake Dallas, Lake Tanglewood, Lakeway, Laredo, Liberty Hill, Little Elm, Midlothian, Mont Belvieu, New Braunfels, Port Aransas, Rollingwood, San Antonio, San Juan, San Marcos, Schertz, Sinton, Socorro, Sunset Valley, University City, Watauga, West Lake Hills, Wichita Falls and Wimberley.
Of the 10 major cities in Texas, only 6 have hands-free city ordinances. While Houston, Dallas, Plano and Fort Worth do not.
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