On September 1, 2017, a new law went into effect banning the use of a portable wireless communication device for electronic messaging while driving in Texas. What exactly is “electronic messaging?” The signed bill defines it as “data that is read from or entered into a wireless communication device for the purpose of communicating with another person.” For most of us that means texting and emailing.
The new law makes “electronic messaging” a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $99 for first-time offenders and $200 subsequent offenses. If, however, the action of texting or emailing while driving leads to a death or serious bodily injury to another person, it becomes a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $4,000 and jail time up to one year.
To be prosecuted, the behavior must be committed in the presence of or within the view of a police officer, or established by other evidence. The “established by other evidence” could mean that phone records are subpoenaed and used in court, however, it does not allow for a police officer to take possession or inspect the electronic device unless they are authorized by another law or code.
Exemptions to the new law include:
- If the vehicle is stopped
- Using a hands-free feature
- Using a navigation system
- Reporting illegal activity
- Summoning emergency help
- Entering information into a software application relating to traffic and road conditions to users of the application
- Reading an electronic message that a person reasonably believes concerns an emergency
- Activating a function to play music
- Relaying information in the course of the operator’s occupational duties between the operator and a dispatcher or a digital network/software application service
Many cities around the state have implemented even stricter cell phone use ordinances while driving through their communities, such as only hands-free use of cell phones (no exemptions, you cannot have your phone in your hand). While signing the texting bill in June, Governor Abbott made it clear that he wanted the legislature to pass a law during the special session that would roll back any local ordinances that ban mobile device use beyond texting while driving, but when the special session closed out on August 15, no such law had been passed. The new law has no effect on the previously implemented cell phone use ban in school zones which allows only for hands-free cell phone use unless it’s a call to an emergency service provider (911) or doctor.
If your company does not already have a Vehicle Operation Policy, or one that covers texting and emailing while in a company vehicle, now is the time to get one implemented. Contact the chapter office if you need assistance in developing a policy.