Victims and the families of victims injured or killed in distracted driving wrecks met with state lawmakers in Austin on Thursday to support legislation banning texting and driving in Texas. The legislation-House Bill 62 and Senate Bill 31-mark the fifth time bills have been filed to ban using a phone while driving in Texas.
If it becomes law, this legislation would make it a misdemeanor to use a “wireless communication device” for “electronic messaging” while driving, punishable by a fine of $25 to $99 for the first offense and punishable by a fine of $100 to $200 for repeat offenses. It is already a misdemeanor in Texas for drivers 18 years old or younger to use a “wireless communication device” for texting or otherwise while driving. The legislation would allow the use of “hands-free devices” as they are defined under the statute.
Texas is one of only four states where it is legal for an adult to text while driving, but it is not for the lack of trying on the part of many Texas legislators. State Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has introduced the bill in each session since 2009, and former Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has introduced the bill in the House in each session since 2011. In 2011, the bill passed both houses of the Legislature, but was vetoed by then-Governor Rick Perry, who said the bill was a “government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” In 2015, the last time it was filed, the bill passed the House but fell one vote short of the 19 (newly-lowered from 21) necessary to bring the bill to debate under Senate rules. Representative Gene Wu of Houston, who helped draft one of the bills, said, “It is outrageous that our state cannot do something as simple as dealing with distracted drivers.” Gov. Greg Abbott has not said whether he would sign the bill if it comes to his desk, but said in 2015 that he would “give it the deep consideration it deserves.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10 percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all police-reported crashes in 2014 were reported as “distraction-affected crashes.” Crashes involving distracted drivers claimed the lives of 3,179 people in the United States in 2014 and injured an estimated additional 431,000. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 476 people were killed in Texas in 2015 in crashes involving distracted driving.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a distracted driving crash, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling 713-396-3964 or toll free at 800-594-4884.