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Is Texas Getting Serious About Distracted Driving?

Anyone who has driven on a Texas road has seen them. The drivers who are tooling along on a Texas highway at upwards of 75 miles per hour, but who really don’t seem to be paying attention. Those who are eating and drinking an entire meal from behind the wheel. Those drivers who seem to have the entire family in the back seat. And then there is the smartphone user, who seems more invested in the conversation they are having with a relative or friend than in making sure they get to their destination unharmed. If these were mere annoyances, that would be one thing. However, the reality is, these people have the potential to be deadly to everyone else on the road.

The Toll of Distracted Driving

The statistics tell the tale. After decades of declining highway deaths, attributed to cars that were made safer with seatbelts and airbags and bodies that can survive a rollover intact, in the last two years, the number of traffic fatalities surged upward by more than 14 percent. In 2016, for the first time since the early 1990s, more than 100 people died on U.S. roadways every day. People are driving a little more, but not tremendously so; total miles traveled was up just 2.2 percent. And while everyone seems to be speeding more and drinking and driving a little more than they did previously and certainly more than they should, there are no ready explanations for the skyrocketing increase in carnage on the roads.

Because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) doesn’t break out types of distracted driving in their statistics, it is necessary to look at clues to determine where the problem is. One of the biggest potential factors comes with the increase in the use of smartphones in the last few years. In 2016, the market penetration of Americans who own a smartphone of some type reached more than  80 percent. Worse, the new phones do a lot more than text and make phone calls. New phones also are capable of engaging in social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and video calling is also very easy. In a survey produced earlier this year, the number of Americans who use social media to share photos and to keep up with news events reached to 80 percent of the population.

The best clue, however, that distraction may be a root cause of the increase in fatalities comes with the fact that the increase has fallen largely on motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. These are much smaller than a truck or an SUV, which makes them easy to miss if a driver is playing with their smartphone and is only glancing up every few seconds. In 2016 alone, just under 6,000 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in the U.S., which is a 22 percent increase from just two years earlier.

Texas May Be Cracking Down

For a long time, the state of Texas did nothing about the distracted driving problem. Numerous times, the state legislature passed bills to ban texting and driving, only to see them vetoed in the end. Most large cities enacted a ban on texting, but statewide, Texas was one of just a handful of states without such a ban, except on teen drivers and school bus drivers and the like. However, that is changing. There is finally a statewide ban on texting and driving or using a smartphone for anything other than a hands-free phone call. However, there is a lot more.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has developed a program called “Impact Texas Driver,” in order to provide young Texas drivers with a thorough education about the dangers of distracted driving. The first course was a two-hour video geared to drivers 15-17 years of age, called “Impact Texas Teen Drivers.” Now, however, they added a second course. which became available on September 1, the same day the new texting a driving ban took effect. While no drivers who are already licensed will have to take it, anyone over the age of 18 will have to take the free course in order to be licensed in the state of Texas.

The course covers the dangers of texting a driving, so no one will be able to claim they know nothing about it any longer. The course goes into great detail about the poor choice to use a cellphone or a smartphone while driving, but it also discusses at length the dangers involved while multitasking in general. DPS also plans a third course, for drivers 25 and older, for early next year.

The Key to Stopping Distracted Driving

No matter how much the state of Texas wants to help us, however, we should all remember the toll distracted driving takes on the roads and refrain from using our smartphones while we are driving. Taking your eyes off the road for even a few seconds can spell tragedy for a Texas family, so we all have to make better choices. Manufacturers made the vehicles safer, now we have to work hard to make ourselves into safer drivers. We make choices while driving and deciding to operate a smartphone while we’re driving is a bad choice for everyone. When driving, put your phone away and focus on the task of driving. The Hill Law Firm wants everyone to get to their destination alive.