Within the last few years, there has been a growing national focus on how dangerous it is for drivers to talk on cell phones and send and receive text messages while driving. Across the country, there has been a push in state legislatures to pass laws that either outright ban both activities by drivers or limit cell phone use to more experienced, adult drivers using hands-free devices.
Texas has become one of the most recent states to join those that have put limits on driver cell phone use and texting. However, the narrow reach of the legislation has left some asking if the law should do more to protect the public from these dangerous activities.
Limits on Teen and Bus Driver Use, School Zones
On September 1, two new cell phone laws went into effect for Texans:
-HB 339: prohibits drivers under 18 years old from using any wireless communication devices while driving, including hands-free cell phone devices, except in cases of an emergency
-HB 55: prohibits drivers from using hands-held devices in school crossing zones (but drivers still may use hands-free devices) and prohibits bus drivers transporting minors from using cell phones at any time while operating the vehicle, except when the vehicle is stopped
HB 339 was passed in response to the growing number of teen drivers in Texas involved in car accidents. Currently, the state has one of the highest teen accident rates in the country. Several national studies have shown that younger, less experienced drivers are more likely to engage in dangerous activities while driving, like talking on cell phones and/or texting. A study conducted by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) found that drivers in the under 20 age group have the greatest proportion of accidents caused by distracted drivers.
Finding a Balance between Public Safety and Civil Liberties
In the past, members of the state legislature have tried to pass more far-reaching legislation that would prohibit broader uses of cell phones and texting by more drivers. However, those opposed to the legislation have been able to prevent more restrictive laws from passing by arguing that they impose unfair limits on civil liberties and that the state can achieve the same goal by educating drivers about the dangers of phone use and texting. House Bills 339 and 55 seem to represent a compromise between these two groups.
Some, however, question whether this compromise is a sound one and whether the state should have passed a broader ban. After all, teen drivers are not the only ones who are responsible for causing accidents. Other drivers are just as susceptible to being distracted by a phone conversation or text message.
While those opposed to passing broader bans in Texas point out that there will always be something that can distract a driver, study after study has proven that cell phone use and texting remain the most dangerous distraction available to drivers. Consider the following statistics:
-Nationally, it is estimated that 80% of all accidents are caused by distracted drivers
-In 2008, 2.35 million people were injured in car accidents. 515,000 of those injured were involved in an accident with a distracted driver
-In the same year, more than 100,000 Texans were injured in crashes caused by driver inattention or distraction
-A study conducted by the Virginia Technology Transportation Institute (VTTI) found that texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving
-The VTTI study also found that drivers who text while behind the wheel have a 23 times greater risk of being in an accident, as compared with a 4 times greater risk by drivers who are talking on a cell phone or who have consumed alcoholic beverages
Experts, like those at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, believe that these numbers are conservative at best. The national statistics are based only on reported accidents in which the police indicated driver distraction as the cause of the accident. But not all states list driver distraction as a cause of an accident. Further, the statistics leave out all of the minor fender-benders and other accidents that went unreported to the police as well as those close-calls that could have resulted in a catastrophic collision. Thus, the actual number of crashes and fatalities caused by driver distraction may be much higher than reflected in the numbers.
Driver distraction is a serious problem, regardless of the age or experience of the driver. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident caused by a distracted driver, contact an experienced attorney today. You should not have to suffer because another driver thought making a phone call or reading a text message was more important than paying attention to the road.