Texans were told to stay off their phones while driving. Did it make a difference?

Drive down most roads or highways in Texas and you are likely to see drivers texting, even though that has been against the law since 2017.

Thousands of warnings or tickets have been given to those motorists.

Now, for the first time in years, the number of traffic fatalities on roads across Texas have gone down — possibly because of this law.

Traffic deaths dropped 4 percent, from 3,720 in 2017 to 3,567 last year, according to a report from the Insurance Council of Texas, which reviewed Texas Department of Transportation data.

“The one factor that may have contributed to the drop in fatalities last year is the state’s new law banning texting while driving,” said Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the council, in the report. “The public awareness campaigns appear to have had an impact.”

Texas troopers issued 6,171 warnings and 2,022 tickets to drivers found texting and driving between Sept. 1, 2017, and Jan. 15, 2019, according to state data obtained by the Star-Telegram through public information requests.

In Fort Worth, police issued 101 texting and driving tickets during roughly the same time frame, city records show.

“The presence of a distracted driving law lets people know the behavior is dangerous,” James Lynch, chief actuary for the Insurance Information Institute, said in the report. “Enforcing it makes people respect the law.”

The insurance council recommends that motorists keep their eyes on the road at all times, avoid multi-tasking, be aware of what other drivers are doing and “expect the unexpected.” The council also recommends that drivers keep their seat belts on, drive sober and drug free and avoid getting behind the wheel when they are tired.

Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.