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.

No Pokemon (ing) While Driving

Fairly typical questions we ask and investigate in car wreck cases are whether the driver was distracted by talking on the phone or texting while driving.  Now, I might have to start another series of questions after the introduction of Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is an app game that was released a few days ago, and it’s already taking over the virtual worlds of kids and young adults.

But this morning, I was alerted by a reporter acquaintance that the new game is also quickly becoming a driving hazard.  A quick twitter search confirmed his fears.

I’m inserting a few of the concerning screen shots in the post.  Needless to say, don’t play PokemonGo or engage in other distracting conduct while driving.  Keep yourself focused while driving so your ultimate time for Pokemon isn’t cut short.

IMG_6907 IMG_6908 IMG_6909 IMG_6910 IMG_6911 IMG_6912 IMG_6913 IMG_6914 IMG_6915

Drivers Aren’t Being Smart With Their Smart Phones

Avoid-texting-while-drivingAT&T released the results of a scary study this week finding that smart phones are allowing people to drive while distracted in new and “creative” ways.

According to the study:

  • 61% of drivers surveyed admitted that they text and drive
  • 33% admitted emailing while driving
  • 28% admitted surfing the internet while driving
  • 27% admitted using Facebook while driving
  • 17% admitted snapping a photo or selfie while driving
  • 14% admitted using Twitter while driving
  • 14% admitted using Instagram while driving
  • 12% admitted shooting video while driving
  • 11% admitted using Snapchat while driving
  • 10% admitted using video chat while driving

This is obviously a concerning trend.  As we find more and more uses for smartphones, it appears that we’re also creating more and more ways to drive in a distracted manner.

That’s bad news for all of us.



What Will It Take To Get A State-Wide Ban On Texting While Driving?

Earlier this week, families who have been destroyed by texting while driving wrecks came to Austin to urge state lawmakers to adopt a state-wide texting while driving ban.  Unfortunately, they’re not alone.  Stories like those shared by these families have been repeated over and over and over.

There is no dispute that texting while driving is dangerous.  Studies have even shown that it’s more dangerous than drinking while driving.  You would think that a state-wide ban would be a no-brainer.

But apparently it’s not.  Some legislators argue that a ban would be an unnecessary invasion into people’s rights.  Are you kidding me?  Is the speed limit an unnecessary invasion?  Are laws against DWI an unnecessary invasion?  Texting while driving is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, and we need to be doing what we can to protect our kids and families.  Will a ban stop texting while driving?  No.  But it will help, and that’s better than nothing.

You should watch the stories of these families below.


People Continue To Text And Drive

text messaging while drivingA new texting while driving survey done by AT&T found that 98 percent of motorists who text regularly know the dangers of texting while driving, but 75 percent of them admit texting while driving anyway.

That’s not surprising, in our practice, we regularly see people who are seriously injured because of people texting while driving.

The good news is that we’re finally seeing some things done about it.  The study results were released as part of an effort by AT&T to publicize a new phone app for AT&T customers that silences text message alerts and activates automatically when a person is moving 15 miles per hour or faster.    The DriveMode app will be coming to iPhones shortly and will soon be available to other carriers.



Austin Bans Use of Hand-Held Cell Phones While Driving

Yesterday, the Austin City Council adopted a ban on drivers using hand held electronic devices, including cell phones.  The ban, to go into effect on January 1, 2015, doe contain exceptions for hands-free devices and for 911 or other emergency calls.  You can read more about the ban in this article by KXAN.

I have some mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I see these problems daily, and I preach about the dangers of distracted driving, including the curse of texting while driving, and, overall, I’m in favor of the ban.  On the other hand, I’m a bit concerned that this might be overreaching.  Talking on cell phones has become accepted, and it’s hard to legislate away such accepted conduct.

I hope the biggest effect of the ban is that we don’t have to see so many people texting while driving.  Police officers think the overall ban will make it easier to enforce existing texting while driving bans, and I certainly think that’s a good idea.

Austin Accidents on the Rise Due to Construction and Inattention to Speed Limits

Austin is a busy city, rapidly expanding to greet new people. As the population grows, the number of traffic accidents increases.

The increasing number of accidents in Austin is related to the number of construction sites now actively expanding various highways, such as the project to add an express lane on MoPac. Ever since construction began, car crashes started to happen with alarming regularity.

The Austin Police Department (APD) is warning people that travel in a construction zone is at 55 mph, and not the usually posted speed, 65 mph. Be aware of any construction zones before leaving for work and watch the traffic ahead on the road. If it is moving slowly, there is usually a good reason.

MoPac is generally the one highway where people tend to put on an extra burst of cruise speed, over and above the posted limit. This tendency has resulted in a number of relatively serious crashes. Any interstate traffic is slowed down by construction reasons: There is no shoulder in a construction zone, and the speed limit is substantially lower. No shoulder means drivers have no place to go when they find themselves needing to slam on the brakes at the last minute to attempt to avoid a collision.

The $200 million expansion project, while a welcome change for harried drivers, has resulted in more people not paying attention to posted warnings relating to the construction. Drivers who do not pay attention to what they are doing while driving, whether that relates to texting while driving, or driving while distracted in other ways, are negligent. It is their duty to drive with due care and attention to everything going on around them. The minute their attention lapses, the chances of a serious or fatal accident goes up exponentially.

Even though police are stationed on MoPac, speeding is still an issue. At some point, the department plans to stop giving out warnings and start handing out tickets.

If you have been involved in a traffic accident as the result of another driver’s negligence, you may be able to obtain compensation for your injuries and losses. To initiate a personal injury lawsuit, you need to consult with an experienced Austin injury lawyer.

Posted on: April 23, 2014 | Tagged

ADHD adversely affects driver’s reactions

Many know that texting while driving affects a driver’s reaction time. Few think about how attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects drivers.

People are generally aware of the developmental disorder ADHD. They know it can make some individuals restless or hyperactive and typically includes a short attention span. In many situations, this can run from just aggravating to downright frustrating. However, when it comes to driving, the short attention span is a potential danger, since the driver is not able stay focused on driving.

Medications for those with ADHD are a blessing and may control symptoms, but perhaps not enough to ensure an ADHD driver can handle the normal distractions of driving. In fact, a recent study has revealed that with the usual distractions that come with driving, ADHD drivers demonstrated a higher degree of variable speeds and changed lanes more often than those without this condition.

The study utilized 61 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 17. Thirty-three of the participants did not have ADHD. There were three tests used to determine distraction levels: test one had zero distractions in place; test two involved having a chat on a cell phone; and test three required participants to text and drive. The findings of the study showed ADHD adolescents fared worse in their efforts to maintain a steady lane position and speed.

On the same note, those with traumatic brain injury may face a similar problem when it comes to driving as well. There is more going on, on the road, than we might think. Even if we take to heart the “Drive Safe” admonition many are sent off with when we go somewhere, we can never know what other drivers are contending with as they drive.

If you have been involved in an accident with a distracted driver, contact an experienced injury attorney for information on obtaining possible compensation for injuries you may have.

Posted on: October 28, 2013 | Tagged

Car Wrecks: Could You Be Liable For Sending A Text To A Driver?

texting-while-driving.bmp” alt=”” /> It’s no secret that texting while driving is dangerous.

We’ve probably all seen the driver who can’t stay in his lane or who is driving dangerously slow all so the driver can text while driving.

But it’s dangerous.  It’s so dangerous that study after study finds that it’s significantly more dangerous than even driving while intoxicated. (And heaven knows we see too many clients injured in wrecks caused by texting and driving.)

Thus, we can all understand (I hope) that if someone is texting while driving and causes a wreck, then the law ought to hold that person accountable for the harms the person causes others.

But what about the person who sends a text to someone that person knows is driving?  Should the person sending a text to a known driver be potentially liable if the driver is in a wreck while reading or responding to the text?

That’s now a possibility in New Jersey.  Earlier this month, a state appellate court ruled that third-party texters could bear responsibility in texting-related car wrecks.  In reaching the opinion, the court wrote, “when a texter knows or has special reason to know that the intended recipient is driving and is likely to read the text message while driving, the texter has a duty to users of the public road to refrain from sending the driver a text at that time.”  However, the Court specifically said that they are not holding that someone who texts to a person driving is liable for that person’s negligent actions.

Could this happen in Texas?

It’s doubtful.  Our legislature and court systems are extremely conservative, and I have a hard time believing that they would reach the same conclusion.

But we should still heed the warning.  If you know a friend or family member is driving, don’t text them.  Wait until they’re somewhere safe to read your message.


Back To School Safety Reminders

Today is the start of school for most of our Central Texas schools.

Remember to stay safe in your local communities and in school zones.  In Austin, the Austin Police Department will engage in a Back To School traffic safety initiative through Sept. 6th.  You’ll see more officers patrolling school zones and looking for drivers who are speeding, using cell phones, and failing to yield to pedestrians and buses.

Around the state, drivers should also be warned that fines are increasing for illegally passing school buses.  Effective September 1, the maximum fine for a first offense will increase from $1,000 to $1,250.  If you receive two tickets for passing a bus, your license may be suspended for up to six months.  And always remember that a ticket for illegally passing a bus can’t be dismissed through a driver’s ed course.

If you’re a parent, make sure your kids are at the bus stop early and that they don’t misbehave while waiting for the bus.  And don’t forget to make sure that they check the street multiple times before crossing the street.


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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