Should Texas Consider a Hands-Free Smart Phone Law?

Texas law prohibits texting while driving, but some safety advocates say that’s not enough to make the state’s roads safer. They’re pushing for a state law that would ban a driver’s talking on a smartphone using his or her hands while driving.

Distracted drivers kill and injure people every day.

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that across the U.S. in 2016, 3,450 people were killed by distracted drivers; and 391,000 were injured in vehicle accidents involving distracted drivers in 2015. An estimated 481,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving during daylight hours.
  • 100,687 accidents, or 19% of all reported vehicle accidents in Texas in 2017, involved distracted driving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. These accidents caused 444 deaths and 2,889 serious injuries in the state that year.

KXAN reports that under a proposal filed before the state’s legislative session,

  • All wireless communication use by drivers would need to be hands-free.
  • Use of voice-operated or car push-to-talk functions would be allowed.
  • Local rules related to cell phone use, which several cities have enacted, would be overridden.
  • The offense would be punishable by a fine.

Currently in Austin, unless you’re making an emergency call or taking some sort of emergency action with your phone, using a phone in your hands and driving could result in a fine of up to $500. The Austin Police Department wrote 2,123 phone-related citations in downtown Austin in 2018.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association

  • 16 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.
  • 38 states and the District of Columbia ban cell phone use by novice drivers.
  • 20 states and the District of Columbia ban it for school bus drivers.
  • 47 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.

Using a smart phone through voice commands and using it as a speaker phone won’t necessarily make driving more safe than using it with a hand, according to research. Though it may seem logical that a driver would be more focused on the road with both hands on the wheel, the issue is the driver’s brain trying to do too much at the same time, not his or her hands.

The National Safety Council (NSC) states that more than thirty research studies and reports by scientists around the world comparing driver performance with handheld and hands-free phones show that hands-free phone use is not safer.

The NSC states that the belief we can “multitask,” do more than one thing well at a time, is a myth. What our brains actually do is rapidly switch back and forth from focusing on and paying attention to one thing to another.

  • A driver’s response to sudden hazards, like the actions of another driver, weather conditions, people and equipment in work zones, and animals or objects in the road, is often the difference between a crash and one that’s missed.
  • If a brain is working under an increased workload (like driving and communicating at the same time), information processing slows.
  • A distracted driver is much less likely to respond to unexpected hazards quickly enough to avoid a crash.

While passing laws may help change drivers’ behavior and society’s acceptance of phone use and driving, they can only do so much. All of us, when we’re behind the wheel, need to ignore our phones while driving, because using them while driving can literally get us, and others, killed. There’s no phone call, text, app or video that’s worth dying for.

If you have been injured in a vehicle accident because of a distracted driver, contact us today for a free consultation so we can discuss the situation, the applicable laws and how you can protect your legal rights to compensation for your injuries.