Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D- Laredo, fought for this day through five legislative sessions comprising ten years. The bill, with her sponsorship, finally passed both House and Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 6, 2017. Now there are only three states remaining without a texting while driving ban – Arizona, Missouri, and Montana. This issue’s long journey included passage of a bill by both the House and Senate in 2011, but a veto by former Gov. Rick Perry. In 2015 it passed the House, but fell short in the Senate.
Even before this law, there were restrictions on phone use in Texas, such as a ban in school zones, drivers under 18, and bus drivers with minor children on board. While waiting for a comprehensive Texas ban, more that 95 cities passed their own local ordinances banning some uses of phones while driving.
Texting ban too limited
Some say the law, as written, doesn’t cover enough distracted driving actions, such as applying makeup, eating, or using GPS. Even when the limited law is broken, the fine of $99 for a first offense and up to $200 for subsequent offenses may not be enough of a deterrent. Critics say the law may be hard to enforce and even confusing to law enforcement as they are only allowed to ticket a violator for texting, not other phone uses. Since using GPS on a phone is still legal, it may enable officers to stop motorists when they are legally using their phones. Even if texting, drivers could easily switch to a GPS app to avoid a ticket.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, pushed to amend the bill requiring police to actually witness a texting offense before initiating a traffic stop. Taylor stated, “I don’t think that makes me more less safe than someone eating a hamburger, putting makeup on, reading their newspaper on the steering wheel or reading a novel as they drive down the road. I’m much safer than those people.” Taylor’s amendment did not pass, however.
The ban will save lives
Zaffirini read to other senators the names of people injured or killed because of texting while driving, also noting police did not witness the accidents thus countering aspects of Taylor’s amendment. Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, agreed that, though the law may not stop texting while driving, it may cause hesitation. “If this saves the life of one teenager who decides ‘I’ll wait til I’m at the stoplight’ or, ‘I’ll wait until I pull into Sonic and then I’ll text,‘ then we’ve accomplished what we set to accomplish,” she said.
For Dallas attorney Ben DuBose, the law’s passage is a significant step in the right direction. “I’ve represented clients whose lives were nearly destroyed by distracted driving. “No law is perfect,” says DuBose, “but lives will be saved now that texting and driving is against the law in Texas.”
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