Statewide texting and driving ban may not go far enough

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the first four months since Texas implemented its statewide texting-while-driving law, the Texas Department of Public Safety reports it issued only 15 violations in Travis County — 14 warnings and a single citation.

The new law is aimed at cutting down crashes in the state because one in five in Texas are caused by distracted driving.

But advocates for the bill say the state law doesn’t go far enough to prevent fatal crashes.

“The passage of the no texting state law is great. I’m glad they did it. I’m glad there is the awareness that there are dangers when you are texting while driving, but we now need to go to the next step,” said Mike Myers, whose daughter died when she was texting while driving back to Austin from Texas Tech University where she was going to school.

“The night before, she called me and told me of all the things that she was looking forward to doing in her life and she was so excited… and then she was dead,” her father said. “We really do need to take it to the next step and ban the use of hand-held phones while driving.”

The city of Austin’s hands-free ordinance went into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

“You can’t have a device in your hand whatsoever while you’re driving. You can’t use it for GPS. You can’t use it for Facebook,” explained Detective Patrick Oborski with the Austin Police Department.

From Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, the city of Austin issued 2,841 citations for the offense. During that same time, DPS issued 1,474 total violations for texting and driving across the entire state.

“It’s not to write citations. It’s not to give you a fine. It’s for the safety, and it’s not anything else but the safety,” added Det. Oborski. “Even one fatality is too much here in the city, so if we can do anything at all to keep people’s eyes on the road and keep them more focused on what they’re doing… that’s our goal.”

Violation of the city’s ordinance is a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

As the state’s texting ban went into effect Sept. 1, so did a required course to combat distracted driving before getting your license in Texas. It is called Impact Texas Young Drivers. All applicants 18 and older must complete the course — which is free — before taking their driving skills exam. There’s already a similar course for drivers ages 16 and 17.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 62 into law in June after the ban passed the Texas Senate on May 19, 2017 in a 23-8 vote. The Texas House cleared the bill in an 111-62 vote in March last year.

The bill was authored by State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and State Sen. Judith Zaffrini, D-Laredo. Craddick said in a statement the governor is saving lives by deterring dangerous and deadly behavior.

“For a long time, Texas has needed this law to prevent the loss of life in unnecessary and preventable crashes and we finally have it,” Craddick continued. “This delivers a strong message to Texas drivers to stop texting, put down their phone, and keep their eyes on the road. Like AT&T says: It can wait.”

This was the fourth time Texas lawmakers had tried to pass a texting-while-driving ban statewide.

Gov. Abbott, dissatisfied with the law as currently written, said he wants the measure to override city ordinances so there isn’t a “patchwork quilt” of distracted driving laws across the state. If legislators do not get to it during the special session, the ban as it is currently written will still move forward and become law in September.

Map: Texting While Driving Citations

Tickets issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety by county from September 2017-December 2017:

App users click here for map.Read the full bill on the state of Texas’ website. 

For more information about Vision Zero ATX, click here. 

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