Texting While Driving Pre-emption
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Why Texas Needs Texting While Driving Preemption Legislation
Call Item 12:
Legislation to ensure that the state’s new statute prohibiting cell phone use while operating a motor vehicle pre-empts any local ordinances on the same topic.
Governor Abbott recently signed HB 62 (Craddick), which makes it an offense to read, write, or send any electronic communication from a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. This includes text messages, instant messages, e-mail messages, and any similar non-spoken communication.
Austin became the first city in Texas to enact a citywide ban on texting while driving in 2009, and since then nearly 90 cities in Texas have followed-suit.[i] These include some of Texas’ largest cities: San Antonio, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Laredo, and Amarillo.[ii] In 2014, Austin passed a much more restrictive ordinance, under which using a handheld wireless device in any manner – including GPS navigation or a speaker-phone voice conversation – may be fined by up to $500, the highest fine of any such ordinance in Texas.[iii] As a result of these local regulations, Texas has a wide variety of cell phone regulations across the state, which can be confusing for drivers.
Previous versions of the legislation that the Governor recently signed pursued in prior sessions explicitly preempted all local ordinance and rules such as hands-free ordinances, thereby solving the problem of “patchwork” regulations across the state. A major rationale offered by proponents at the time was that the combination of a ban on driving with a preemption of local hands-free ordinances would establish a uniform statewide driving law, so that drivers would not have to know the local rules of every municipality they might drive through to know what form of wireless-communications device usage might be permitted.[iv] HB 62, however, does not explicitly preempt local ordinances and therefore does not create a uniform statewide driving standard, and instead adds to the patchwork nature of regulations across the state.
Legislation that pre-empts all local government regulations governing cell phone use while driving will end the patchwork of local regulations. The state law is clear that cell phone use while a vehicle is moving is illegal: this standard should be enforced statewide.
- Studies have shown that texting while driving can be even more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, which is why Governor Abbott signed a texting and driving ban into law [during the 85th Session-ed.].
- However, the bill does not preempt all local ordinances on this issue.
Governor Abbott is calling on the legislature to preempt cities and counties from any form of regulation on mobile devices so there will not be a patchwork quilt of regulations throughout the state.
[i] See: Cell Phone Ordinances at TxDOT website, online at: http://www.txdot.gov/driver/laws/cellphones.html; “Back Ban on Texting While Driving,” Austin American-Statesman, online at: March 7, 2013, online at: http://www.pressreader.com/usa/austin-american-statesman/20130307/281728381944323
[iii] See e.g., “City Council Adopts Hands-Free Ordinance to Enhance Car, Bicycle Safety,” Austin Police Department, October 24, 2014, online at: http://austintexas.gov/article/city-council-adopts-hands-free-ordinance-enhance-car-bicycle-safety.
[iv] See, e.g., “Bill to ban texting while driving would set uniform standard,” Enrique Rangel, February 2, 2013, Amarillo Globe News. Online at: http://amarillo.com/news/2013-02-02/bill-would-set-uniform-standard