Renewed push: safety groups want distracted driving law

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas is far behind more than 30 other states when it comes to passing a distracted driving law. The state doesn’t have one and last year nearly 3,000 people were badly injured or lost their lives because of a distracted driver, according to AAA Texas.

Now, road safety advocacy groups are spurring lawmakers to try again.

Texting while driving is a “triple threat” danger, said AAA Texas Spokesman Doug Shupe. “It takes eyes off the roads, your hands off the steering wheels. And your mind off what should be the most important task at hand, which is driving safely on the road,” he said.

Without a law against it, safety groups fear the number of deaths will increase. Last year, distracted drivers cause more than 100,000 crashes statewide. More than 2,500 people were badly injured in those wrecks and 422 people lost their lives because of distracted driving.

“Nobody would ever think about closing their eyes and driving for the length of a football field, yet people are doing it all the time when they’re texting and driving,” said Shupe.

NUMBER OF VIOLATORS IN AUSTIN BY MONTH IN 2016
  • January: 547
  • February: 591
  • March: 509
  • April: 348
  • May: 594
  • June: 511
  • July: 284
  • August: 130
Source: City of Austin Municipal Court. Statistics may vary. 

On Wednesday, AAA Texas hosted a policy summit on distracted driving at the Palmer Events Center in Austin. The agency invited police officers, other safety groups and victims’ family members to discuss a plan of action that would spur lawmakers to create a bill.

A statewide distracted driving bill has failed at least four times, either in the house or on the governor’s desk. Lawmakers say a law that could curtail drivers cuts into their privacy rights.

“I understand personal intrusion,” said Toron Wooldridge. “But, at the same time, one car can cause a massive wreck that can affect many other lives.”

In March, Wooldridge’s two younger sisters, 19-year-old Brianna and 17-year-old Jade, died in a distracted driving accident. The teens were headed back home from Spring Break on Padre Island, when the driver of their car glanced at the GPS, lost control and hit an 18-wheeler.

“We lost two beautiful young ladies with bright futures,” Wooldridge said. “And, I think that if we can get a law, hopefully another family won’t have to deal with what we’re dealing with.”

While Texas doesn’t have a statewide distracted driving law, at least 60 municipalities have created their own, including Austin and several of its neighboring cities. But, experts say those laws differ slightly from each other and that could confuse drivers.

“Texas is a big state. We have a lot of cities,” Shupe said.  “A uniform, statewide ban, something that everyone would understand, is the best way to go.”

Currently, Texas is one of four states that does not have a texting while driving ban. Missouri, Montana and Arizona also do not have a law against distracted driving.

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