Texting While Driving to Be Illegal in Texas; Governor Seeks Preemption of Local Regulations

Texting While Driving to Be Illegal in Texas; Governor Seeks Preemption of Local Regulations.

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Texas is set to become the 47th state to enact a statewide ban on texting while driving after Governor Greg Abbott signed H.B. 62, a bill that prohibits drivers from using a cell phone to “read, write, or send an electronic message” unless the vehicle is stopped.[1] Passage of the bill through the Texas Legislature has been hard-fought. In past sessions, many bills proposing a statewide ban of texting while driving have been introduced but failed to garner enough votes to become law.[2] One such bill passed both chambers in 2011 only to be vetoed by Governor Rick Perry.[3]

The bill preempts local rules or ordinances regulating a driver’s use of a cell phone to read, write, and send messages,[4] but Governor Abbott doesn’t believe this preemption goes far enough. Citing concerns over a “patchwork quilt of regulations” throughout different counties and cities of Texas, Governor Abbott wants to preempt all local ordinances regulating the use of cell phones by drivers during this summer’s special session.[5] 90 cities in Texas currently regulate driver cell phone use in some form.[6] Critics of the proposed preemption include the bill’s author, Representative Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who fears that such preemption will replace the stricter laws of cities that require drivers to use hands-free devices to make phone calls while driving.[7] The Senate’s sponsor of the bill, Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, plans to file a proposal during the special session for a statewide hands-free law, a measure currently in place in a dozen states.[8]

The special session began July 18.[9] It is unclear for now whether Governor Abbott will succeed in his proposed preemption. While the bill was still under consideration, Representative Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, proposed an amendment that would have enacted the broad preemption Governor Abbott seeks, but that amendment ultimately failed.[10] Furthermore, Representative Craddick has stated that during the regular session legislators were adamantly opposed to the idea of preempting city ordinances.[11]

The ban will take effect September 1, 2017.[12] After this date, drivers caught texting while driving could face a $25 to $99 fine for a first offense and $100 to $200 for subsequent violations.[13]


[1] H.B. 62, 85th Leg., R.S., eff. Sept. 1, 2017; Emma Platoff, Abbott Proposal Would Nullify City Rules on Distracted Driving, Texas Tribune, June 15, 2017. There are exceptions under the bill for drivers using a cell phone for GPS services or in an emergency. H.B. 62, 85th Leg., R.S., eff. Sept. 1, 2017.

[2] Texas vs. Texting and Driving, Round 5, O’Connor’s Annotations, Mar. 20, 2017.

[3] Eva-Marie Ayala, Statewide Texting While Driving Ban Passes Texas Senate for the First Time Since 2011, Dallas Morning News, May 19, 2017.

[4] H.B. 62, 85th Leg., R.S., eff. Sept. 1, 2017.

[5] Platoff, Abbott Proposal Would Nullify City Rules on Distracted Driving; Anna M. Tinsley, Texting While Driving Will Be Illegal in Texas Starting Sept. 1, Star-Telegram, June 6, 2017.

[6] Rani Monson, 3 Biggest Problems with the New Ban on Texting in Texas, CultureMap Dallas, June 11, 2017.

[7] Platoff, Abbott Proposal Would Nullify City Rules on Distracted Driving.

[8] Id.

[9] Monson, 3 Biggest Problems with the New Ban on Texting in Texas.

[10] Platoff, Abbott Proposal Would Nullify City Rules on Distracted Driving.

[11] Id.

[12] H.B. 62, 85th Leg., R.S., eff. Sept. 1, 2017.

[13] Id.