Posted on May 21, 2015

Would a Texting-While-Driving Ban Open Door to Racial Profiling?

Marissa Barnett, Dallas News, May 17, 2015

As the Legislature considers a statewide prohibition on texting while driving, some opponents have raised concerns about whether the ban could be used to racially discriminate against drivers.

A sampling of a few large Texas cities with ordinances that already prohibit texting while driving or other cellphone use behind the wheel found that the ticketed population in most cities generally matched up with the demographics of those cities.

Information about how many people were pulled over for cellphone-related offenses, but not ticketed, is not available. Nor can cities say how many people pulled over for texting were subsequently searched–often seen as a more accurate measure of police treatment.

Some opponents of a long-sought state law say that texting-while-driving bans are of particular concern because more is left to an officer’s judgment than with speeding or other violations. Because of that, they worry, those laws may lead to more unwarranted stops or racial profiling. Police departments reject the idea that any laws are used in a discriminatory way.

“It’s another reason to use to have probable cause to stop somebody,” Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said last week. Dutton voted against the bill because he worried the ban could lead to unnecessary police stops and racial profiling.


Dutton, a defense attorney who is black, said both his personal and professional experiences tell him it’s more common for racial minorities to be unnecessarily stopped by police.


Forty-six other states now have bans on texting while driving.

The Dallas Morning News obtained citation information from San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Grand Prairie and Arlington. In those cases, the race of ticketed drivers for cellphone-related offenses generally matched the demographics of the city based on 2010 census data, the most recent comprehensive survey available.