SPECIAL REPORT: Does the state's new texting and driving law have any teeth?

TYLER, Texas (KETK) - It’s now been almost three months since the state's new texting and driving law took effect.

Legal experts tell KETK News the new law has no teeth making it difficult for police officers enforce it.

As KETK's Mike Miller found out, there are "loopholes" in the law that had state lawmakers asking serious questions before they passed it.

In Franklin County, Harold Patterson looks on at the memorial he created for his son, Will Patterson.

"He was 18 years old and he said, 'Dad, I want to try it out on my own," Harold said.

In the Summer of 2016, Harold’s son Will took a road construction job in the Odessa area.

Excited, as it was his first time away from home, Will checked in with his family a few days into the new job.

"Little did he know, he was taking pictures and sending them to us of where he would lose his life," Harold said.

On August 19th 2016, while Will was working on the side of Highway 302 in Ector County, he was hit and killed by a car.

Investigators believe the driver was texting.

"They actually saw her on the phone when it happened and she hit a truck and ended up in a ditch. She got out of her automobile and she was still on the phone," Harold said.

It's a problem seen all over the Lonestar State.

That's why state lawmakers passed a texting and driving law this year.

"Statewide, we show that about one out of every five motor vehicle accidents are in some way related to a distracted driver," Smith County Sgt. Daryl Coslin said.

The new law makes it illegal to read, write or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle, but the law says you can text if your vehicle is stopped, parked or even waiting at a red light.

"The problem is technology moved so quickly that we all got spoiled in communicating via text and cell phone that now, the law comes in last and I don't really think it's going to make that much of a difference," Personal Injury Attorney Keith Miller said.

Miller and others see "loopholes" in the law.

For one, the "texting" must be witnessed by a peace officer. And the law allows drivers to use their mobile devices for GPS and navigation, to report illegal activity or traffic information and to use phones to play music.

"Our beat cops have enough to do without trying to be phone spies. That is just my opinion," Miller said.

Some state lawmakers even questioned how police would be able to prove a person was texting.

"When an officer sees you and pulls you over, you could say, well, I was using my GPS. I was using my music app. I was using a traffic app," State Senator Larry Taylor said.

Sgt. Coslin says regardless, Smith County deputies are looking out for texters.

"If someone has their head down while they're driving, so they're distracted like they have their cell phone below the door level like they're looking down at it instead of the roadway, whether they're able to maintain a single lane of traffic, whether there's a light shining inside the car at night, while the officer is on patrol at night," he said.

The minimum fine for texting while driving is $25 and the max is $99.

Some, like Attorney Keith Miller, say the punishment just isn't enough.

"If you're a business man and you're getting ready to close a big business deal, 100 bucks is probably worth it to keep talking or texting," Miller said.

Sgt. Coslin says it doesn't matter what others say about the law, officers will be pulling people over.

"Right now, we are giving verbal warnings and written warnings. We're also giving out criminal citations," Sgt. Coslin said.

Harold Patterson was a big part of getting House Bill 62 passed.

He's heard some people say the law isn't enforceable, but for him, this is a step in the right direction.

"46 other states are able to enforce this law," Harold said.

A step to prevent another Will from dying at the hands of someone texting.

Some experts believe the state needs to stiffen the penalties for texting while driving, while also making it easier for officers to pull people over and hand out citations.

In California, drivers who are cited for texting and driving end up paying fines of more than $200. If they're caught doing it a second time, the penalty goes up by several hundred dollars.

For a look at what other states are doing when it comes to texting while driving, check out the Governors Highway Safety Association.

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