Mixed opinions regarding enforcement of texting while driving law

Posted at 5:25 PM, Sep 06, 2017
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:31:05-04

Central Texas law enforcement agencies are taking a closer look at the texting while driving ban that went into effect at the beginning of the month.

If an officer in Texas sees a driver texting while driving, that person could face fines of up to $99 the first time. A second offense will be punishable with a fine of up to $200.

To be prosecuted, a police officer must have seen the offender texting while driving or there must be evidence to prove it happened. Using your phone for navigation purposes, reading an email that the person has reason to believe concerned an emergency, and activating a function that plays music are defenses from prosecution.  

Hewitt Police are giving drivers a grace period, which could be up to a month, during which they would warn them about possibly getting a ticket, if they text behind the wheel again.

Hewitt Police Assistant Chief Tuck Saunders said officers would rather talk to someone and gain compliance than giving them a ticket.

"We want people to drive safe that is the bottom line. We don't want to work the accidents. We don't want to tell somebody their husband, wife, child...was involved in a crash," Saunders said.

He added officers don't anticipate the law would be hard enforce.

"If we see people actively texting while they're driving, there is a violation. If they get in a wreck and  we can determine it was because of the texting, there is a violation," Saunders said.

Hewitt Police Officer James Burchfield agrees it would not be hard to spot someone breaking the law. However, he did clarify drivers would still be allowed to text while their vehicles are stopped at a stop sign or at a red light.

"As long you stop texting while you start driving, you are safe by law," Burchfield said.

Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton said the department believes the law would be hard to enforce because it would be hard to prove someone is texting.

"Obviously you are going to have to see someone's phone to do that. You're not going to subpoena everybody's phone records every time we see somebody holding their phone on their hand. It's not logical, it's not feasible for us to do," Sgt. Swanton said. "That's why this law as it's written, it would be virtually impossible for officers to write tickets on."

He hopes this law would make the roads safer.

"Obviously, it is a law, people know they're not supposed to do it so maybe that will make a difference," Swanton said.

Burchfield said he is already noticing a difference since the law went into effect because he has not seen people texting while driving. Overall, he expects for it to be beneficial long term.

"There have been a lot of wrecks and a lot of fatalities for people being on their phones, texting, doing all that kind of stuff. I believe it's a good law," Burchfield said. "I believe this law will save...lives."

According to the law, an officer who pulls over someone suspected of texting while driving can't inspect or keep the phone for that specific violation. Both Hewitt and Waco Police see, if officers see the offense happening, their sworn testimony and any in car camera footage would be used as evidence in court.

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