Law enforcement officials in Arlington, Texas wrote just three citations for texting while driving since a new state law took effect in September 2017 banning texting behind the wheel, while police ticketed 80 violators in Fort Worth and one in North Richmond, according to a report in the Star-Telegram.
The low number of tickets, critics say, shows that the new state law is much more difficult to enforce that earlier local ordinances.
Consider Arlington, where a local hands-free ordinance worked far better in curbing distracted drivers. Under that ordinance, which prohibited any use of a mobile device involving the driver’s hands, Arlington police wrote some 400 citations between 2012 and 2017, according to the report.
Law officers say enforcing the new state law is challenging. The law prohibits only texting, but drivers can still use their phones to play music, operate a GPS, or make emergency calls.
That, in turn, means police have to prove intent. The burden is on them to prove the motorist was texting as opposed to using the mobile phone for a legal task.
Violators of the statewide texting ban face a misdemeanor charge and a penalty ranging from $25 to $99 dollars for first-time offenders and up to $200 for repeat offenders, reports the Star-Telegram. Motorists convicted of texting while driving that leads to serious injury or death of another person faces a penalty of up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
In 2017, more than 100,000 crashes in Texas were due to distracted driving. In fact, distracted drivers were responsible for 444 fatalities and over 2,800 injured victims, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.