AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Texting while driving will soon be illegal in Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he’s signed the ban into law, ending a decade-long effort by safety advocates to reduce potentially deadly driver distractions on the road.
Texas will join at least 47 other states that have similar laws when the ban takes effect Sept. 1.
Texting would be punishable by a fine of up to $99 for first-time offenders and $200 for repeat offenses.
The ban covers texting only, not other Internet use such as map applications.
Abbott said Tuesday that when lawmakers meet in special session in July and August, he wants them to pass a state law that will roll back any local ordinances that ban mobile device use beyond texting while driving. “We don’t need a patchwork of regulations,” across the state, Abbott said.
Federal investigators have said the driver of a pickup truck that hit the bus said he was checking for a text when the crash happened and had taken prescription drugs.
“This new law will make Texas drivers safer by prohibiting the dangerous and often deadly practice of texting while driving, and it will ensure that there is one uniform law throughout the state,” said AAA Texas Vice President of Government & Community Affairs Linda von Quintus. “AAA Texas is pleased with the passage of HB 62 and is committed to continuing the work that will be needed to educate drivers about the new law and the dangers of distracted driving,” said von Quintus.
Meantime, the Texas Department of Transportation is urging motorists to avoid distractions and give driving their full attention.
With 1 in 5 crashes in Texas said to be caused by distracted driving according to TxDOT, the agency is pushing its “Talk, Text, Crash” messaging across the state to encourage safe summer driving.
“Last year, 455 people were killed and more than 3,000 were seriously injured in crashes due to driver distractions,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “These crashes are highest among young drivers, and we’re grateful to parents like Stacey Riddle who are willing to share their stories in the hope of sparing other families the grief they’ve endured. We ask all drivers to always keep their eyes and attention on the road, and avoid distractions of any kind.”
Safety experts warn that using a phone to make a call, text, check messages or perform other smartphone functions is particularly dangerous when behind the wheel.
In 2016, there were 109,658 crashes in Texas related to distracted driving — up 3 percent over 2015. Research shows that holding a phone and even using a Bluetooth or other hands-free device is a distraction that can cause a crash.
Throughout the month of June, motorists can expect to see TV commercials, billboards and digital ads reminding them to give driving their full attention.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)