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New Texting and Driving Law: Sept 1, 2017

House Bill 62 did for Texas what many thought would never happen. Texas now prohibits the use of a handheld wireless device to send a text while driving. There are a few other changes of which people need to be aware.

If you are required to take a driving test for any reason, part of the examination will now include that the driver has knowledge of the effect of using a wireless communication device and distracted driving. This will apply to all new drivers or persons who have to take the driving test for other reasons.

The Texas Transportation Code 545.425 now provides that the driver of a vehicle commits an offense if the driver uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. There are some exceptions, including reporting an emergency or a crime – but it seems wiser if there is an actual emergency to call 9-1-1.

There have been rumors that law enforcement will take your phone and connect it to a device which will be able to determine what apps have been recently open on your phone. First, I call you attention to the final provision of Transportation Code 545.425 which provides that a peace officer who stops a motor vehicle for an alleged violation of this section may not take possession of or otherwise inspect a portable wireless communication device in the possession of the operator unless authorized by the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Penal Code, or other law. So Texas law currently prohibits the officer from taking your phone. Second, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Riley v. California that law enforcement must get a warrant to search your phone if you are under arrest. The law also allows you to say, “No.”

Officers may ask you to see your phone. If you give it to them, you have voluntarily allowed them to look at your phone. If you open it for them, you have voluntarily allowed the officer to search the contents of your phone.

If an officer asks to see your phone, politely tell them three words, “Get a warrant.” This is your right as a good American. You have a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the laws of the State of Texas, and the Supreme Court all provide that when it comes to your phone, tell the cop, “Get a warrant.”

The Texas Transportation Code 545.424 provides that a driver under 18 years in age may not use wireless communications device while driving. This appears to apply to handheld and hands-free devices.

For first offenses on any of the above, the fine is $25.00 to $99.00 plus court costs. A second conviction is a fine of $100.00 to $200.00.

Let’s be safe out there. Put away your phone while you are driving. This is about keeping our roads safe. If you get stopped for texting and driving, the officer will also be looking for other violations and criminal activity. That text message can wait.

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