I haven’t followed the progress of the filed-every-session statewide-band-on-texting-while-driving bill, but recent tragic events have put a spotlight on it and raised the probability of it actually becoming law.
Texas is one of four states that do not have a statewide ban on texting and driving. That distinction has drawn renewed attention in recent days following an accident in West Texas in which a truck driver who was texting and driving crashed into a church bus and killed 13 senior citizens.
State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, author of the texting ban bill that recently passed the House, said about the accident: “It’s a tragic situation. It’s a wasted situation.”
Craddick, who has pushed for the ban for four sessions in a row, offered condolences to the victims, their families and the church in a statement last week.
“No message or e-mail is important enough to risk injury or death while driving on our Texas roadways,” Craddick said.
If Texas had passed a texting-while-driving ban when Craddick first filed a bill creating one in 2011, Texas would have been the ninth state to pass such a law, he said. If House Bill 62 passes this session, it will be the 47th.
In 2015 and 2013, Craddick’s proposal passed the House but died in the Senate. In 2011, it traveled through both chambers only to be vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who said it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”
In the 2015 session, a group of conservative senators helped kill the proposal, arguing that it could lead to unreasonable searches by police, among other concerns.
This year, both Craddick and the measure’s most vocal advocate in the Senate, Judith Zaffirini, are hopeful the measure will draw enough support in the upper chamber and Gov. Greg Abbott will sign it.
The fatal crash in question was horrible and the sort of thing that will make it difficult for someone who doesn’t like texting bans to stick to their principles. (Though some people still stand firm.) That said, the story notes that several former foes of this bill have changed their minds or at least softened their opposition over time, so perhaps Craddick’s bill had a better chance this session than I expected. I also have to think that with all of the anti-local control fervor swirling around the Capitol, the old argument that a statewide ban is a “nanny state” thing has perhaps lost some of its appeal. Funny how these things go.
One more point:
Craddick pointed to research from Alva Ferdinand, an associate professor in health policy and management at Texas A&M, who has said a statewide ban could prevent 90 deaths a year. The most effective way to curb deaths related to people texting-and-driving is to make it illegal, he said, comparing the move to the law that people in cars wear seat belts.
“No one ever thought seat belts would go into effect and now it’s just standard use to buckle up. Only once it became law did most people start to buckle up,” Craddick said.
As it happens, Texans are pretty good about buckling up, so there may be something to this. I have always believed that banning texting while driving will reduce the number of people who do it for the simple reason that a lot of us are rule-followers, and if something is illegal that’s a sufficient reason for us to not do it. Combine that with the relentless messaging campaign against texting while driving, and over time I think it will largely cease to be a problem. I’ll be very interested to see if there’s an immediate effect that can be detected if the Craddick/Zaffirini bill gets enacted.