Texas’s Texting While Driving Ban Goes Into Affect Today. Will It Make You Less Safe?

Today, Texas’s new texting while driving ban goes into affect.  For the first time, Texas will have a state-wide ban.  A violation of the ban is a misdemeanor, with fines between $25 and $99 for first time offenders and $100 to $200 for repeat offenders.

For years, I’ve been critical of Texas officials for their failure to adopt a state-wide texting while driving ban.  So, I should be excited that a new ban is going into affect, right?

I’m not.  I think a good argument can be made that Texas’s ban makes many of you less safe.

What do I mean?

While the state refused to take the lead on this critical safety measure, many of our cities and towns didn’t.  Prior to the state-wide ban, over forty Texas cities and towns, including Austin and San Antonio, had their own limits on the use of cell phones.  Many of these bans are more strict than the Texas ban in two ways.

First, the Texas ban merely limits the use reading, writing, or sending an electronic message  (it’s not clear if this just covers texts and emails or will it cover reading websites as well?). Many of the local ordinancesgo further than that.  For example, many cities like Austin not only banned texting while driving, but also banned the use of phones (and other handheld devices) without a hands-free system (like a bluetooth headphone).  So many of these local ordinances banned more types of activities that have been found to be unsafe.

Second, many of the local fines are more expensive than the new Texas fine.  For example, in Austin, the fine for a first offender starts at $200, and the maximum fine can go up to $500.  In Kyle, the fine is between $100 and $500 for a first offense, between $200 and $500 for a second offense, and $500 for a third offense.

Unfortunately, the new Texas law also contains a pre-emption clause that overrides the local laws “relating to the use of a portable wireless  communication device by the operator of a motor vehicle to read, write, or send an electronic message.”

That means that for many cities throughout the state, including Austin, the punishment for texting while driving — the fines—are becoming more lenient.  It may also mean that the more broad bans requiring hands-free devices may also be overturned — we’ll have to wait to see how courts interpret the statutes.

But regardless of this, for many parts of the state,  including Austin, there is actually less of an incentive to text and drive today than there was yesterday.

This is a mistake.  The dangers of texting while driving are well known, and it is a factor in probably more than half of the car wreck and trucking accident cases that our firm handles.  Studies show it is more dangerous than drinking and driving.  While I applaud the state for finally acting, they should have allowed those communities who want even stronger fines to keep those fines in place.  We want to discourage as much texting and driving as we can.

If you want to read the Texas law, it is available here.

Will Austin Ban Use of Cell Phones While Driving?

A lot of momentum seems to be developing for the idea that Austin will ban drivers from using hand-held devices while driving.  In February, the Austin City Council appointed a Distracted Driving Study Group to look at the problem of distracted driving.  On Monday, the study group released a memo recommending that the city council outlaw the use of handheld devices while driving.  There seem to be two main reasons for this.  One, using a hand held cell phone while driving can be distracting and dangerous.  Two, making it illegal to use hand held devices would make it easier to enforce the ban on texting whiile driving (now it’s difficult to tell is someone is texting or dialing a phone number).

I’ll keep you posted on the story as details emerge.  In the meantime, KXAN has done a nice story on the issue.  You can watch it below.


Parking Lot Dangers — Van Backs Over Child And Mother

One of my least favorite places to have my kids is a parking lot.  Pedestrians in parking lots are vulnerable.  Cars are coming and going, and often approaching pedestrians from behind.  Parked vehicles are backing out of spots.  Drivers are racing to find that one free spot or racing to get out of the chaos of the parking lot.  And pedestrians are caught in the middle.

And it’s worse for kids.  I constantly remind my kids that they’re short enough so that drivers backing out of spots — especially drivers in an SUV, truck or mini-van, won’t see my kids through the rear-windows and mirrors.

On Friday’s Today Show, I saw a horrific story about a man who backed out of a spot, hit a mother and child, dragged the child behind the vehicle for a few feet, and then drove off.  While it was horrific, it was a good reminder of all of the dangers we face in parking lots.

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The timing of the story is ironic.  On Monday, July 22, I’m scheduled to start a trial involving a wreck in a parking lot — a driver either wasn’t paying attention or tried to go around the pedestrian (my client) and mis-judged the distance, and the driver hit my client.

I hope all of you will take the story or perhaps my upcoming trial as reminders of the immense dangers faced in parking lots and do what you can to help alleviate those dangers.

Voice-Activated Texting While Driving Is Still Dangerous

After my mom bought her first iPhone, I was explaining Siri to her.  And her first statement was, “Great!  Now I can text in the car.”

And my response was to almost scream at her, especially since she drives a lot with my kids.

New research is backing up my belief that voice-activated texting while driving is not much safer than “old fashioned” texting.   An article on texting while driving in the Jan. 21st issue of the Atlantic discusses one of those studies, which concludes that while using a voice activated system is a little safer than texting by hand (especially when receiving messages), it is still significantly more dangerous than driving without the distraction.

But what I really like about the article is not the statistics, but this point a doctor makes with her patients:

How would you feel if the surgeon removing your appendix talked on the phone — hands free, of course — while operating?

This statement captures the essence of the problem — you can’t concentrate fully on the road when you’re concentrating on incoming or outgoing texts.

Sadly, it’s hard to convince people of these risks.   A significant number of our clients are hurt because other drivers were trying to text and drive at the same time.

New Car Wreck Danger: Distracted Pedestrians

I’ve often written of the problems of distracted driving, but today’s Austin American Statesman had an Associated Press article highlighting an increasing problem, distracted pedestrians.

We’ve all seen them (and admittedly, probably been them) — the person walking down the street while texting, checking email, or listening to music oblivious to the rest of the world.  And they’re causing more problems.

Reports of injuries to distracted walkers treated at hospital emergency rooms has quadrupled in the past seven years, and that number is almost certainly underestimated because there is no system in place to ask patients if they were injured while using electronics.

There are also a number of anecdotal stories of problems on the internet, including video of some poor guy in Los Angeles who was texting a message to his boss and almost strolled into the path of a black bear.

Researchers aren’t surprised by the increasing problems.  While all of us think we’re good at multi-tasking, science proves different.  For example, recent studies show we’re worse walkers (we veer off course or miss a target) when walking while talking on the phone and while texting.

This isn’t a convenience issue, it’s a safety issue.  Frankly, drivers are a big enough danger to pedestrians.  We don’t have to be dangers to ourselves.

Also, this isn’t an entirely new concept.  In fact, I wrote about the problem of “killer headphones” and distracted pedestrians here.







Eagle Ford Shale and Trucking Accidents

The past two weekends, I’ve had to make working trips to the Texas coast (and I didn’t even see the beach on either trip).  The one thing that struck me on the drives was the increase in traffic, especially trucking traffic.

That’s why it didn’t surprise me to see the headline in Sunday’s Corpus Christi Caller Times describing the increased number of commercial vehicle wrecks resulting from the South Texas oil boom.  Generally, from 2008 to 2011, the number of wrecks in the state of Texas decreased.  But in the 11 Eagle Ford Shale counties, commercial vehicle wrecks (trucking accidents) more than doubled.

Three counties have been hit particularly hard.  In  McMullen County, they had four commercial vehicle wrecks in 2008, and 48 in 2011.  Karnes County went from five wrecks to 77 during the same time, and LaSalle County went from 60 to 187.

These eleven counties are also seeing an increasing number of traffic fatalities.

While a lot of the responsibility lies at the feet of the truckers, drivers in these areas have to be safe too.  You need to be aware of these risks, be patient — don’t pass in no passing zones, and drive defensively.  That’s the only way we’ll all be safer.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a commercial vehicle wreck, let us help.  Contact us by calling (512)476-4944 or by submitting a case on the submit a case forms throughout the website.

More On Texting While Driving (and Talking While Driving) In School Zones

Last night, Fox 7 ran yet another story about the continued problem of Austin drivers texting and using cell phones in school zones.  This is a continued story and a continued risk to our kids.  And when I say “our kids” in this instance, I mean it.  My son’s elementary school  (my daughter has graduated to middle school) has become the poster-child for these stories.  I bet this is the 5th story in the last year or so featuring this problem that has focused on our school.

This is a problem that has to stop.  I know people feel the urge to see who sent that text, check that last email, or make that call that they’re thinking about.  But don’t do it.  Our children are too important to subject to those risks.

I’ve been griping about this for quite some time now.  And if you’re on my newsletter list, you know that I’ve decided to do something about it.  I’m joining up with people across the country to offer seminars on the dangers of distracted driving.  It’s time we stood up for the safety of our kids.

You can watch the news story below:

Cell Phone Law Loophole Puts Kids At Risk: MyFoxAUSTIN.com

Auto Accidents: Is A Ban On Using Cell Phones In Cars Ahead?

Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board urged a complete ban on the use of cell phones while driving.  The Board has recommended that all states adopt a complete ban on the use of cell phones while driving — including texting and emailing — except in emergency situations.  It would include a ban on using phones even with hands-free devices.  While the Board doesn’t have the authority to enact any legislation, its opinion does hold sway with federal and state regulators and legislators.

The impetus behind the suggestion is the increasing problem of distracted driving.  According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data, at least 3,092 roadway fatalities involved distracted driving, though it suspects the number is much higher.  And cell phone use is one of the sources of distraction.  At any given daylight moment, an estimated 13.5 million drivers are using their phones.

The proposal appears to have support among many Central Texas traffic enforcement officials.  In an Austin American Statesman article this morning, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman John Hurt said he thought transportation departments would support the ban.  Also, spokespersons for the Austin Police Department said they’d support a ban.

I can’t imagine such a ban passing, but I do hope that the proposal starts a discussion about the increased dangers of distracted driving.  This is a serious problem that we see every day.  One of the APD officers said in best in the Statesman article when he said that we need a culture change.  Hopefully we can start moving to that change.

Watch Out For Distracted Driving/Texting-While-Driving School Zone Car Wrecks This Year

School started back up this week, and the Austin Police Department and others are again stressing the importance of avoiding distracted driving in school zones. Last night, KXAN reporter Doug Shupe ran a great story on the problem.  Sadly, the crossing guards he interviewed said that the worst problem was around Casis Elementary, my son’s school.  From the story:

The potentially dangerous violations include drivers not stopping at crosswalks, talking and texting on cell phones, and even driving on the wrong side of the road.

During crossing guard training classes, Chris Moore, coordinator for the City of Austin’s Child Safety Program, hears the frustrations from those who try to keep kids safe on the way to and from school.

“We literally have to reach over and pull a child back or push them back out of the way because cars are coming through and the crossing guards are frightened,” said Moore.

 Distracted driving is a problem that is becoming more and more common in my cases.  Despite more and more publicity about the dangers of distracted driving, particularly texting while driving, people seem unwilling to keep their focus on the road.  And far too often, that has serious consequences for others.

If you read this site, you know that I’ve had many posts about the dangers of distracted driving and texting-while-driving. To read those, use our handy search feature on this page.

You can watch the full KXAN story below.

Austin has highest school zone fines: kxan.com

If you or a loved one has been injured in a wreck caused by distracted driving, please feel free to call us at (512)476-4944 or request our free book through this website.

APD Seeks To Reduce The Risks Of Distracted Driving

If you’ve read the blog regularly at all, you know that one of my pet topics is distracted driving.  We see distracted drivers causing unnecessary car wrecks and trucking wrecks and personal injuries on an almost weekly basis.  And police officers aren’t immune to the problem — in fact, the potential problem is worse for police officers.  They have access to many more on-dash computers and other distractions that typical drivers don’t face.  I’ve previously written about the Austin Police Department taking some steps to reduce the risk, but now they’re hoping to do more. 

Last night, Shannon Wolfson of KXAN News ran a story that talked about APD’s efforts to reduce those risks by changing the equipment in APD vehicles, including making more of the equipment voice activated.  You should watch her story below.  And, it contains a short interview with me.

APD looks to keep cops’ eyes on road: kxan.com

Schuelke Law maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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