As often as we're all on the road, it's a safe assumption you've seen El Pasoans do some crazy, unbelievable stuff behind the wheel. Many times it is because that person is staring down at their phone.

Well then this bit of news might make you feel a tad safer: this month the El Paso Police Department’s Traffic Unit will be keeping an eye out for those tapping out a text at 65 miles an hour with kids unbuckled in the back seat. (Yes, I saw that with my own eyes once.)

Every month, the police department focuses on a specific traffic law that they then make a concerted effort to enforce. This month, April 2021, it is “Use of Portable Wireless Communication Device for Electronic Messaging.” In other words, a smart phone

Through the end of the month traffic cops will be on the lookout for drivers texting, reading messages, or sending electronic messages while operating the vehicle.

Facebook/El Paso Police Department Official
Facebook/El Paso Police Department Official

Per Texas Transportation Code Section 545.4251, which is the specific law the EPPD social media post references, “’Electronic message’ means data that is read from or entered into a wireless communication device for the purpose of communicating with another person.”

How the Law Reads, How Much It Will Cost You, and Defenses Available

An operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.

A first offense under the law carries a fine between $25 and $99, and the second offense between $100 and $200. Now, you can get out of a ticket if:

• the driver is using a hands-free device, including voice-operated technology;
• the driver is reporting illegal activity or calling for emergency help;
• the driver is reading an electronic message that they reasonably believe is related to an emergency; or
• the driver is relaying information to a dispatcher or digital network through a device affixed to the vehicle that is part of the driver’s job.

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What Else You Need to Know

To be prosecuted, "the behavior must be committed in the presence of or within the view of a peace officer or established by other evidence."

According to the Dallas-area based website, you are not required to hand over your phone to the officer so he or she may look at your phone to verify if you were violating the law. The law firm also states that if you're convicted of violating the texting while driving law it will go on your driving record, which could mean an increase in your insurance premium.

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