by Tim O’Hare
House Bill 80 by Representative Tom Craddick, R-Midland, passed in the house 102 to 40. If the bill becomes law, it would make texting while driving a misdemeanor offense with a fine of up to $99 on the first offense and $200 on additional offenses.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), one in five crashes involve driver distraction and drivers who use their cell phones while driving are at a higher risk of crashing than drivers who do not.
“The main thing we need to say is, it is a safety issue in this state — driving is not a privilege,” Craddick, the former House speaker, told lawmakers on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility as legislators to put forth the tools that the [Department of Public Safety] and other police officers in this state need to make it safe on our highways and streets.”
The bill contains six amendments, one of which clarifies that cities are still able to pass their own ordinances. Other amendments allow drivers to text as long as they are completely stopped and clarify that looking at a phone screen is not prohibited.
Should the bill pass, TxDOT would be required to put up signs alerting drivers to the ban in high-traffic locations and at entrances to state highways.
Forty cities in Texas—including Arlington, Denton, Farmers Branch, Grand Prairie, and Rowlett in the DFW area—already have ordinances against text messaging while driving in place, and 44 other states have laws against texting while driving.
Cell phone use is already prohibited in active school zones, and drivers with learners permits, or drivers under age 18 are prohibited from using their cell phones while driving.
What remains to be seen is whether or not Gov. Greg Abbott will veto the bill. While campaigning, he suggested he was against statewide and local bans on texting while driving, however, John Wittman, a spokesman for Gov. Abbott, stated that the Governor “will consider any bill passed by the Legislature with the goal of making Texas safer.”
State law or not, don’t text and drive. By doing so you are putting not only your life at risk, but also the lives of your passengers and other drivers on the road. That text message can wait.
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