Importance of Cellphone Records under Texas’ New Texting While Driving LawNovember 21, 2017
About 1 in every 5 auto accidents in Texas involves a distracted driver. In 2016 alone, distracted driving contributed to nearly 109,660 crashes, causing 455 deaths and injuring more than 3,000 others.1 Looking to curb this dangerous and deadly behavior, in June 2017, Texas lawmakers passed a new texting while driving law.
This law2, which has been in effect since September 1st, establishes guidelines for when the use of mobile devices while driving is illegal and what the penalties are for motorists who violate this statute.
While this law may have significant impacts on the incidence of distracted driving in Texas, it also positions cellphone records to be a potentially key piece of evidence in car accident claims alleging distracted driving.
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Brief Overview of New Texting While Driving Law in Texas
Amending the Texas Transportation Code, the new texting while driving law (House Bill 62) states that:
- Motorists who are at least 18 years old are prohibited from using a “wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message” while the vehicle is moving. An “electronic message” includes texts and emails.
- Motorists who are younger than 18 years old “may not operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communication device, except in case of emergency.”
- Motorists who violate this new law will be committing a misdemeanor offense, punishable by fines of $25 to $99 (for a first-time offense). A subsequent offense can be punishable by fines of $100 to $200. Currently, the penalties do not include points being added to a motorist’s driving record.
It is also important to note that this new law:
- Provides for harsher penalties if a violation results in crash that causes injuries or death
- Establishes certain exemptions for those licensed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The Role of Cellphone Records in Distracted Driving Car Accident Claims
The terms of the new law clearly prohibit motorists from reading, writing or sending text messages and emails while a vehicle is moving. Consequently, when a car accident occurs, obtaining and reviewing cellphone records for the involved drivers can be critical to proving fault.
In fact, cellphone records, which are discoverable and admissible under Texas law, can reveal a lot about motorists’ actions immediately before, during and after a collision. Specifically, these records can uncover details regarding the precise time when:
- Text messages are sent from cellphones
- Text messages involving data charges are received by cellphones
- Emails are accessed, written and sent.
Cellphone records can also show who else was involved in a text “conversation,” potentially yielding witnesses for a claim.
Additionally, it is crucial to be aware that:
- While cellphone providers may only retain cellphone records for a discreet period of time, forensic specialists may be able to retrieve records regarding whether the phone was being used to text or email prior to (or during) a crash.
- A court order is usually necessary to obtain cellphone records. A lawyer can help secure this order, analyze the records obtained and verify whether a prohibited form of distracted driving contributed to an accident.
When it comes to car accident claims, the bottom line is that cellphone records may play a more important role than ever in proving distracted driving, violations of Texas law and fault for a crash.
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1: According to the latest data from the Texas Department of Transportation
2: Complete text of the new Texas texting while driving law