House passes texting while driving ban

Put that phone down and drive.

This is no LOL matter: Texting while driving could soon be prohibited statewide. The House preliminarily passed a bill [Thursday] that singles out “text-based communication” — texting, instant messaging or e-mailing — while driving as a punishable traffic offense. Using other applications, like GPS, Google or Facebook, on a smart phone would not be banned.

“Why is this being singled out when there are a multitude of things that distract us while driving?” asked Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who voted against the bill. “I’m concerned about limiting freedom and making people criminals for just reading an electronic message.”

But Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, who authored the bill, told lawmakers the chances of someone having an accident while texting is 20 times that of a drunk driver. The majority of the House, 124 members, voted in favor of the bill; 16 members voted against it.

Current Texas law already prohibits drivers from using a mobile device in any capacity while driving in a school zone. Nor can teenage drivers under 18 text and drive. (Making an emergency call is an exception for both laws.) According to Craddick, texting is “just one more piece of the puzzle” that needs to be prohibited to keep roads safe.

Craddick’s bill is HB243, and it passed on third reading on Friday. The text specifies “a communication sent from a wireless communication device for the purpose of manually communicating with another person in a written medium”, which basically means texts, emails, and instant messages; whether you could get ticketed for a tweet or a Facebook status update or some other typing is unclear to me. Note Larry Taylor’s amendment, which narrows it to writing, not reading, and Marc Veasey’s amendment that adds in “The term does not include a text-based communication that is voice-activated and displayed in a manner that allows the driver to view the material on the dashboard or above the steering wheel.” In other words, there are still ways around this.

I have assumed for some time that Texas would eventually adopt a statewide ban, as many cities have adopted varying ordinances of their own. Among those that have already acted on this: West U, Bellaire, Galveston, Conroe, Seguin, and San Antonio. I have also assumed that the state would set a standard that would override local ordinances, but I don’t see anything in the bill that would specify that. So, even if this bill passes, be aware of those local variations.

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