You are driving to work and your phone rings. What do you do? If you decide to answer it, are you breaking the law? Can you use your cell phone while driving? What if instead of answering your phone, you decide to send them a text to let them know you are driving and can’t talk. What are the different laws between talking on the phone and texting while operating a motor vehicle?

In 2016, there were over 100,000 crashes in Texas that involved some form of distracted driving. The majority of these accidents involved at least one driver who was on their phone talking or texting with someone else. These hazards have led to state-wide laws that regulate the use of phones while driving a motor vehicle.

Is it Illegal to text on your Phone while Driving in Texas?

Sending electronic messages while driving became illegal in Texas on September 21, 2017. This law only applies to texting or sending emails while in a moving vehicle. This means that a driver can still text in their cars while the vehicle is running, however, the vehicle must be at a complete stop. If you break the law, it will cost you $99 for your first offense. Any repeat offenses cost $200. If there is an accident that happens because of your texting, you could be jailed for up to one year and receive a fine of up to $4,000.

The phone laws refer to talking and sending messages to others while driving a moving vehicle. They do not apply to using other services on your phone. You can still use GPS and other navigation apps on your phone without facing fines. You can also legally turn your phone on and off, look for music to play, or use any other apps that don’t electronically send messages– but that doesn’t mean you should!

Is it Illegal to talk on your Phone while Driving in Texas?

As for now, it is not illegal to talk on the phone while driving a vehicle in Texas, so long as you are not operating a Commercial Motor Vehicle (“CMV”), like an 18-wheeler– more about that another day as there are different rules and laws governing the cell phone use of CMV operators. This means, as long as you are not operating a CMV, you can dial and receive phone calls while you are behind the wheel. You are not required by law to use a hands-free device. You can use your phone and hold it up to your ear to have conversations without breaking the law. Again, just because it’s not against the law doesn’t mean it’s the right or safe thing to do.

Recently, a new hands-off bill was introduced to the state senate in 2019. This bill would completely stop the use of phones while operating a motor vehicle. This means that a driver would only be allowed to use their hands to turn on and off their phone. Any other actions would be illegal and punishable by a fine. Calling emergency services would still be allowed when needed. However, as of 2020, this bill has not yet become an enforceable law.

The hands-off bill would allow drivers to talk on the phone if the were “hands-free”. Hands-free laws are common in other states. These laws do not allow drivers to use their cell phones while driving unless they have a way to connect their phone to their car’s speakers. It is legal if the vehicle has the capability to connect to a phone and dial and make calls without the driver having to use their hands. Generally, these cars are equipped to understand voice commands that tell it to call or text someone.

So, What can you do on Your Phone While Driving in Texas?

It is always legal to use your phone to call emergency services. At this time, it is not illegal to dial and make phone calls while driving a motor vehicle in the state. You can use GPS and navigating systems on your phone. Sadly, there are also no laws forbidding watching a movie or video or surfing the internet while driving.

However, just because you can do something, does not mean that you should or that it’s safe. Indeed, the National Safety Council estimates that at least 1.6 million crashes each year involve drivers using cell phones or texting. Using hands-free technology can cut down on your chances of being involved in an accident. It is not a risk-free action though, and most safety experts recommend not using your phone at all while driving. If you must make a call or need to find out information on the internet, it is best to pull over and use your phone before beginning to drive again.

In Texas, there are a few things that you cannot do with your phone while driving a motor vehicle. The most important one is not sending electronic messages. This includes things like texts, emails, updating Facebook statuses, or sending tweets. Other forbidden actions are reading books or articles on your phone while driving.