It’s hard to remember there was a time–say, 10 years ago–when people were not constantly looking at their smartphones and tablets. Unfortunately, driving while operating an electronic device can be just as dangerous–and deadly–as operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Indeed, after a fatal a young woman named Alex Brown lost her life in 2009 due to a texting-while-driving accident, Texas legislators began the push to ban “distracted driving” in the state. These efforts culminated in the 2017 passage of the Alex Brown Memorial Act, which took effect last September.
Drivers Face Fines for Using Portable Devices in Their Cars
As the law now stands, an adult driver may not use a “portable wireless communication device” while operating a motor vehicle, except while it is “stopped.” It is still legal to use a phone with a “hands-free device,” or to interact with GPS navigation or “activate a function that plays music.” Drivers under the age of 18 may not operate a wireless device at all while driving. For both adults and minors, the law exempts the use of wireless devices “in case of emergency,” such as to report a traffic accident.
Police may cite offenders for a misdemeanor if they are caught illegally using a portable device while driving. This includes not just texting, but also using email or any type of communications “app,” such as Twitter or Snapchat. Although there is no jail time associated with “texting while driving,” drivers can be fined between $25 and $99 for a first offense. For a second and subsequent violation, the range of fines increases to between $100 and $200. According to a recent report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Texas Department of Public Safety has issued about 2,000 warnings and 341 tickets under the new law.
Need Help Fighting a Traffic Offense?
It is important to note that police are only allowed to cite a driver under the Alex Brown Act if they personally witness the illegal behavior. In plain English, the cops have to catch you in the act of texting-while-driving. But “other evidence” of a violation may be admissible in court. For instance, if you contest a ticket, prosecutors may subpoena your cell phone records to establish you were texting or making a call at the time of your citation.
As a practical matter, prosecutors are unlikely to zealously pursue most offenders under this particular law, especially given the requirement that police personally witness violations. Even sponsors of the law admit it is designed to act more as a deterrent than anything. However, if you are in an accident that causes death or “serious bodily injury” to someone else, and texting-while-driving is a factor, you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a potential one-year jail sentence.
If you are cited with any kind of traffic violation and wish to contest the charges in court, you should speak with a qualified Houston criminal defense lawyer who can advise you as to the law. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today at (281) 280-0100 if you live in the Houston, Galveston, or League City areas and need help right away.