It has been five years since the Texas anti-distracted driving statute went into effect. Like in other states, the Texas Legislature passed the law to combat the devastating safety hazard that distracted drivers pose on our highways and surface roads. The law prohibits reading, typing or sending text messages while behind the wheel.
No doubt the law has prevented some awful car accidents from happening. But is it reducing crashes overall? Not if data released by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is accurate. The agency said earlier this year that fatalities in accidents caused by distracted drivers went up 17 percent in 2021 compared with the previous year.
Why did this happen?
With pandemic lockdowns reducing traffic in 2020, it is perhaps not surprising to see such a dramatic increase. However, many parts of the country reported a rise in serious wrecks that year. Drivers often felt emboldened by the emptier-than-usual roads to speed and take other unnecessary risks, like looking at their phones. So the fact that distracted driving deaths went up by so much in 2021 is likely not a rebound to normal levels after a one-year dip.
Another possible reason for the increase is the limitations of Texas’ law, which only bans texting. Other states have more comprehensive laws that also ban any handheld phone use, such as holding the phone to your ear to make a call or interacting with apps. A more restrictive law might have reduced the number of traffic deaths.
Ultimately, it is each motorist’s personal responsibility to take the act of driving seriously. This includes keeping the phone on the seat or dashboard holder while driving. Distracted driving is a choice that puts the public at unacceptable risk.