Texas Legislature Set to Act Soon on Bill to Ban Texting While Driving
In a culture built on speed and, increasingly, electronic interconnectivity, texting while driving and unsafe cell phone use pose daily dangers on the road. That’s why 30 states have outright bans or substantial restrictions on the use of electronic devices behind the wheel. The goal is to get people to pay attention to the road, and prevent wrongful death accidents caused by distracted driving.
Texas is not one of those 30 states, but the legislature is seriously considering making it one. House Bill 243, a bill to ban texting while driving, is now before a key committee of the state senate. Several Texas cities, including Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso already have local texting bans. What House Bill 243 would do is create a statewide ban.
Death of 17-Year-Old Girl Motivated Drafting of Bill
The proposed bill to ban texting while driving in Texas has its origins in a tragic death. On November 17, 2009, a 17-year-old girl named Alex Brown died when her truck rolled over as she was texting friends. Alex was on her way to school when the accident happened.
Her parents testified before the House Committee on Transportation in March in support of House Bill 243. “No text message is worth a life,” Alex’s father, Johnny Mac Brown, told the committee.
How Broad Would the Ban Be?
As originally drafted, House Bill 243 called for the inclusion of an array of electronic activities in the behind-the-wheel restrictions. These included:
- Text messaging
- Instant messaging
- Composing e-mails
There were also two related bills introduced. One bill called for a ban on talking on cell phones while driving, except when the driver is using a hands-free device. Another bill sought to increase penalties for violating existing cell phone restrictions for drivers in school zones.
Amendments to House Bill 243
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, sponsored a companion bill in the Senate to House Bill 243. She has become concerned about the slow pace of the House bill, as well a significant amendment that would weaken the bill. In the House, the word “read” was removed from the list of prohibited activities behind the wheel.
In practice, what this change in the wording would mean is that drivers would still be allowed to view what is on the screen of their electronic device, even when they are driving. The bill’s author, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, was opposed to the change. But he was also concerned that not agreeing to the amendment would scuttle the bill entirely.
Despite this setback, efforts to pass the texting ban bill continue. Legislature designated May 16 as Texas Teen Safe Driving Day and proponents of the bill held a rally on the Capitol steps.
Pat Stephens, whose son, Justin Murray, was killed in a car accident, said the proposed ban should include “everything” — including reading.
Whatever the Texas legislature decides this session about distracted driving legislation, the issue will continue. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teens in Texas and across the country. Legislative bill or no bill, it’s time to — as one public awareness campaign puts it — “XtheTXT.”