Texas Bill to Ban Texting While Driving Moves Forward

Although a listing of statewide texting-while-driving bans covers most of the U.S., Texas is missing from that list. But a legislative effort in the Lone Star State is looking to change that.

Rep. Thomas Craddick (R-Midland) is revisiting legislation to bar drivers from texting behind the wheel after his 2011 effort was rejected by Gov. Rick Perry. Craddick’s latest piece of legislation is called HB 63, which received a favorable report from the Transportation Committee with a 6-1 vote last week, clearing the way for full debate on the House floor.

Craddick introduced the bill in November 2012, saying he was urged on because he sees “so many drivers distracted by their phone.”

“These drivers are taking their eyes off the road and jeopardizing the safety of themselves and others,” Craddick said in a statement.

Craddick said his “common sense safety measure” would cut into distraction-related incidents on the road by barring the use of wireless devices to “read, write or send a text-based communication while driving.”

Using a handheld device to dial a number or use GPS and using voice-operated or hands-free devices would still be permitted under the bill.

The bill also establishes a $100 fine for violators and a $200 fine for repeat violators.

The bill does not explicitly deem texting while driving a moving violation that would add points to a driving record, so Texas insurers likely wouldn’t be able to raise insurance rates based solely on the presence of a texting ticket.

Some Texans Say It’s Time for Ban

Testimony delivered at last week’s hearing for HB 63 ran the gamut of public witnesses, with representatives in support of the bill ranging from the Houston Police Department to the National Safety Council to the American Council of the Blind of Texas. Terri Hall, director for Texans Uniting for Reform & Freedom, was the only witness who delivered testimony against the legislation.

Text messaging while behind the wheel is outlawed in 39 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Texas bars under-18 drivers from texting while driving but has no statewide prohibition.

That leaves Texan motorists free to text as they drive “in most situations,” according to a legislative analysis on HB 63.

Local laws have picked up the enforcement slack so far, according to Craddick, who said that about 25 cities, including Austin and Arlington, have municipal ordinances against texting while driving. Legislators say traffic safety should be streamlined for law enforcement who currently face a patchwork of texting bans across the state.

“Unfortunately, these well-intentioned local laws have resulted in some measure of confusion because of the inconsistency of their application across the state,” stated the analysis, which also predicted that localities could see varying financial impacts from the law depending on their own current texting bans and fine levels.

If passed, the proposal would go into effect on Sept. 1.

Governor Cites Teenage Text Ban When Rejecting Previous Bill

Texas lawmakers had passed a texting-while-driving ban, but that legislation was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry in the summer of 2011. While Perry said he agreed that texting-while driving was “reckless and irresponsible,” the governor called the proposal, HB 242, an example of “overreach.”

“I support measures that make our roads safer for everyone, but House Bill 242 is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults,” he said in his veto message.

Perry also said that Texas’s current texting prohibition for underage motorists is sufficient because they are “more easily distracted.” He urged more awareness and education in lieu of a statewide ban for all drivers.

A bevy of studies from traffic safety experts, automakers and auto insurance companies show that teenagers are the age group most plagued by the stubbornly evident problem of distraction behind the wheel, whether they are victims or perpetrators of it.

HB 63 is also called the Alex Brown Memorial Act in honor of a teenager who died in a single-car crash on her way to class. The high school senior had sent and received more than 10,000 text messages in the weeks before the crash, according to the website of the traffic safety foundation set up by Brown’s parents in her memory.

A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) showed a dramatic uptick in the deaths of 16- and 17-year-old drivers nationwide. According to the GHSA, deaths of drivers in that age group jumped 19 percent during the first six months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011; half of states in the U.S. reported increases.

Kendell Poole, GHSA chairman, said he suspected that distracted driving was a contributing factor because fatalities related to the hazardous habit “are rising.”

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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