ONLY ON 6: Texting And Driving Ban - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

ONLY ON 6: Texting And Driving Ban

Texas lawmakers are taking another shot at passing a ban on texting and driving.

Texas is one of only six states that do not ban texting and driving.

According to TXDOT, more than 95,000 distracted drivers caused wrecks in 2013 and 505 people died from those wrecks. 

"This situation is very scary and the numbers are very high,” said TXDOT Public Information Officer Adele Lewis. “We know from the numbers that it is very dangerous to be on a phone or texting and driving at any time."

TXDOT and law enforcement have launched various distracted driving campaigns over the past few years to make people aware of the dangers.

 Some Texas lawmakers have been trying to take it a step further by enacting a statewide ban.

There are a few bans on texting and driving currently in Texas. Drivers under 18 and those drivers who have had a learner's permit for less than six months are banned from texting and driving. School bus operators can't text and drive while children are in the bus. No one can text and drive in school zones.

 In addition, approximately 40 Texas cities have their own bans on cell phone use while driving. New bans in San Antonio and Austin just went into effect on January 1st, 2015.  

Representative Tom Craddick of Midland first proposed a statewide ban on texting and driving during the 2011 legislative session. The bill passed in both the House and Senate, but was ultimately vetoed by former Governor Rick Perry. In his veto of House Bill 242, Perry wrote "I support measures that make our roads safer for everyone, but House Bill 242 is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults."

During the 2013 legislative session, a texting and driving ban passed in the House, but did not make it through a Senate committee.

Representative James Frank voted against the ban in 2013. Frank, who represents Wichita Falls and the rest of District 69, says he didn't think the bill was enforceable because it allowed things like dialing a phone number.

"It wasn't whether texting and driving was a good thing; it was whether it was a good bill. I didn't feel it was good bill last time," said Representative Frank.  

Representative Craddick is trying to pass a ban for a third time. Craddick filed House Bill 80, also known as the Alex Brown Memorial Act, for the 2015 legislative session.

“The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to make our roadways safe,” Craddick wrote in a press release. “If passed next session, this law will provide a uniform statewide approach to curb this unsafe practice and will go a long way in helping educate drivers on the dangers posed by texting while driving and save lives.”

The proposed bill bans reading, writing or sending a text, e-mail, or instant message while driving unless you car is stopped and in an outside lane of travel. But under the bill, drivers can still do things like dial a phone call, use a GPS system or use a phone in several emergency situations. Unless changed, those provisions could cause many legislators to vote against it.

Representative James Frank said, "I think we've got to be pretty clear; either you can hold your phone or you can't. To get a law enforcement officer to know whether you were texting or on Google is a pretty difficult call."

Even if the bill does pass in the legislature, Governor Greg Abbott may veto it. Legislators say Abbott suggested he would veto such a ban on the campaign trail.

The Governor's Press Secretary Amelia Chassé told Newschannel 6, "Governor Abbott supports laws already in place that prohibit cell phone use by young drivers and in school zones; but he does not support additional government mandates that micromanage adult driving behavior. Governor Abbott will remain active in efforts to inform all drivers about safe driving practices, including the dangers of texting while driving."

Ultimately, it's up to state officials to decide whether a ban is necessary. But either way, education and awareness efforts will continue across the state.

TXDOT Public Information Officer Adele Lewis said, “Right now, TXDOT is doing a lot of education. We have been for years. We are doing all we can do to curb the behavior."

The 2015 legislative session kicked off on January 13th and is scheduled to run until June 1st.

Newschannel 6 did reach out to Senator Craig Estes, who represents the Wichita Falls area, for his opinion on the bill. His office told Newschannel 6 in an e-mail "the senator is unavailable to provide a statement on H-B 80 at this time." 
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