Proposed Texas law would outlaw texting while driving

Although several Texas cities have laws banning texting while driving, House Bill 242 could take effect statewide

By Garner Roberts
Abilene Reporter-News

Among the more than 100 bills that landed on the desk of Gov. Rick Perry this week from the final weekend of the 82nd session of the Texas Legislature was a measure that bans sending or reading emails, texts or instant messages while driving.

Although several Texas cities have laws banning texting while driving, House Bill 242 could take effect statewide on Sept. 1.

The governor has 20 days after the Legislature adjourns to sign, veto or allow bills to become law without his signature. A spokesman for Perry told the Abilene Reporter-News Wednesday afternoon that the governor is reviewing HB 242.

More than 1,000 bills were passed during the 140-day session that ended at midnight Monday.

HB 242 was sponsored by Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

"I think it's a good law enforcement tool to keep streets and roads safe for every Texan," said Craddick, former speaker of the House.

Barry Miller, owner of Coach Miller's Driving School in Abilene, agreed that HB 242 is "a good measure. It's one step to making our roads safer. It's about time the Legislature does something about that. There are too many accidents and fatalities because of that. It's way too dangerous."

The Texas Department of Transportation estimated that cellphone use caused 3,308 crashes in Texas in 2009, including 41 deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said "distracted driving," including cellphone use, was responsible for 20 percent of U.S. traffic deaths in 2009, up from 10 percent in 2005.

"Drivers simply do not realize the dangers that are posed when they take their eyes and minds off the road and their hands off the wheel and focus on activities other than driving," said Carol Rawson, traffic operations director for the Texas Department of Transportation, during April as the agency observed National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Miller said awareness of distracted driving is included in his curriculum.

"We used to hit hard on distractions like food and drinks," Miller said. "Now I hit hard on texting.

"Officer Sparky Dean, when he comes to our class, talks about that," Miller added. "I try to get it across without preaching."

Dean, a senior trooper in the Texas Department of Public Safety, declined to comment when contacted by the Reporter- News Wednesday on the proposed law. "We can't comment on pending legislation," he said. "We'll let the governor decide that."

If it becomes law, HB 242 makes texting and emailing while driving in Texas a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $200 and up to 30 days in jail. In cases in which texting or emailing causes a crash with serious injuries or deaths, the person could be found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor that carries maximum punishments of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. There are exceptions in the proposed law, including use during emergencies, people using hands-free technology, and drivers whose job includes communicating with a dispatcher.

Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso are among Texas cities with bans on texting or emailing while driving.

Copyright 2011 The E.W. Scripps Company

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