Distracted driving is one of the main reasons Texas again led all states with an incredible 3,757 fatalities and 263,000 injuries from auto and truck crashes last year. Everyone knows it’s dangerous — but almost everyone does it, especially younger drivers.
Hopefully we are one step closer to finally stopping — or at least reducing — texting while driving. Today the House of Representatives approved a bill that bans this dangerous practice. On Monday a Senate committee approved the companion Bill 31 which is now headed to the full Senate for a vote.
Texas lawmakers first sponsored an anti-texting bill in 2009 but it was defeated. Knowing the law was vital, lawmakers led by former Speaker of the House Tom Craddick also sponsored bills in the next three sessions, but all were struck down.
As a result, almost 100 cities have had to pass their own ordinances prohibiting cell phone use including Arlington, Grand Prairie, Hurst, and Denton here in North Texas. It’s hard to know where you can and can’t text legally. A state-wide ban would end the confusion and extend this badly needed protection to all Texans.
Traffic Safety Laws Protect People
In 2011 a texting ban bill easily passed both houses. But former Governor Rick Perry vetoed the common sense law, referring to it as “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”
We know texting while driving is dangerous. State law already bans drivers under 18 years old, all adults in school zones, and bus drivers from even talking on the phone while driving. And no one objects to laws that protect us from dangerous conduct like drunk driving and speeding. We willingly follow laws that require seat belts and child seats. But when one in four accidents in Texas are caused by distracted drivers, it’s past time to take action.
Governor Greg Abbott echoed Gov. Perry’s silly micromanaging stance during his 2014 campaign. However he has hinted that he would consider a bill that passed both houses.
The costs of texting while driving
Anybody who doubts that texting and driving is dangerous should read the heartbreaking testimony at the committee hearings. The stories from people who lost their loved ones and suffered debilitating injuries were devastating. One particularly tragic appearance was made by the surviving members of the Berry family after a texting driver hit their vehicle, killing the parents and paralyzing two young brothers.
Others told stories about frightening near misses with distracted drivers. One senator said he had passed a driver on I-35 who was reading a book propped up on the steering wheel. No, it was not a phone, but it was no different from people who read their Facebook posts and rear end stopped or slowing cars at 70 mph.
Under the law, the fine would be a relatively small $25 to $99 and could increase to $100 to $200 for repeat offenders. Obviously it will be hard for our police officers to spot all drivers who are texting, but the new emphasis on education and the threat of punishment would be a deterrent for many people.
Texas is somehow one of only four states still allow texting while driving.
Our lawmakers need to worry more about who is posting on Facebook sitting in the car next to you at 70 mph than who is in sitting in the stall next to you.
Call or email your representative or senator and ask him or her to pass this long overdue law. Our lives depend on it.
Texting while driving is still legal in Texas (after 2015 legislature)
Distracted driving – is new law on its way? (during 2013 legislature)