Mike Kueber's Blog

April 23, 2011

Texas ban on texting while driving

I previously mentioned that the Texas legislature was considering a ban on texting while driving (TWD).  My son Mikey responded by asking if he would still be able to surf the internet while driving.  Good question, so I promised to read the law.

By doing a little research, I learned that several texting bills have been filed, but only one has been passed by the House and forwarded to the Senate – H.B. 243.  The relevant language in this bill provides:

  • “An operator may not use a wireless communication device to write or send a text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.

In its original version, H.B. 243 prohibited sending or receiving texts, but it was amended to apply only to sending texts despite a proponent’s argument that it would be an “administrative nightmare” for police to have to determine whether a driver was reading or typing.  As a practical matter, I think police officers would need to examine the cell phones for evidence of a violation, and I don’t think they have the right to conduct that type of search. 

Incidentally, while reviewing legislation in other states, I noticed that some states ban sending or receiving texts, while others take a broader position by prohibiting “distracted driving,” which would include texting.  That broader sort of law makes a lot more sense, but Texas legislators have rejected it in favor of a narrow law that may be virtually unenforceable. 

Thus, the answer to Mikey’s question is that, even if the Texas bill passes the Senate and becomes effective in September, he not only can surf the internet while driving, but also can receive and read texts.  And I’m not sure how the police would ever be able to charge him with texting while driving unless the police officer is in his back seat looking over his shoulder.

The ultimate objective, however, is not to arrest people, but to change behavior, and as one police chief explained a municipal ban on texting:

  • You know, the criticism has been, ‘Officers won’t be able to enforce it, people will say they were dialing the phone,’ McManus said. “But here’s the bottom line for me: If a law is passed, there are going to be people who obey it simply because it’s on the books. There are folks out there who will obey a law because it’s on the books. There are others who will probably not. But the fact of the matter is, I believe there will be fewer people texting, which will make our roads safer.”