Proposed Texas Laws Would Ban Texting While Driving

Texas lawmakers have introduced several proposed bills in a renewed effort to impose a statewide ban on texting while driving. Most prominent among the new proposed laws are those authored by Rep. Tom Craddick and State Senator Judith Zaffirini. Rep. Craddick has introduced House Bill 63, which would make it a criminal offense to “use a handheld wireless communication device for text-based communication while operating a motor vehicle.” The broad language of the bill would criminalize sending a text, instant message, e-mail or other written communication by a phone while driving. The proposed law would make such an offense a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $100, unless the defendant had previously been convicted of texting while driving, in which case the fine could be as high as $200.

Sen. Zaffirini has introduced a similar bill in the Texas Senate. Sen. Zaffirini’s S.B. 28 would likewise criminalize sending a text, e-mail, or other written communication while driving. Both of the proposed bills are named in memory of Alex Brown, a West Texas teenager who lost her life in a car accident caused by texting and driving in 2009. Rep. Craddick recently called legislation banning texting while driving “the big bipartisan bill of the session.” Advocates for such a ban claim that “distracted driving” results in thousands of automobile accidents, and hundreds of fatalities, every year. In support for this position, they rely on a study conducted by researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, who found that a driver’s reaction time is doubled when distracted by reading or sending a text message.

Governor Rick Perry has previously vetoed proposed texting while driving legislation and has repeatedly stated his opposition to such a ban. A spokesman for the Governor recently told reporters that “the key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is information and education, not government micromanagement.”  Opponents of a texting while driving ban argue that such laws are difficult to enforce and prevent law enforcement from focusing on other, more pressing matters.  They also claim that there is no study that conclusively proves a causal link between texting while driving and increased car accidents.

Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have imposed bans on texting while driving. More than twenty Texas cities have also enacted local ordinances that ban texting while driving. These cities include Austin, Alamo, Arlington, Bellaire, Brownsville, Conroe, Galveston, Harlingen, Magnolia, McAllen, Mission, Missouri City, Mount Vernon, Nacogdoches, Palmview, Penitas, San Antonio, Shoreacres, Stephenville, Tomball, Universal City and West University Place. A few Texas cities, such as El Paso and Amarillo, have gone further, banning the use of cell phones while driving.  If enacted, the state legislation would preempt and override the local ordinances banning texting while driving.  Given the enthusiasm among legislators for such a bill, it seems highly likely that it will be passed and sent to Governor Perry for his signature.  If Governor Perry were to veto the bill, it would require a two-thirds majority in both chambers of the Texas legislature to be enacted.

Author: Josh Borsellino