As we head toward the next legislative session, one bill on the agenda might look very familiar. It's the texting while driving law that was passed, but then vetoed by Governor Rick Perry last session. However the law has been implemented on the local level in certain cities and with mixed results.
“I only know of about four cases that we’ve had since its implementation.”
That’s Bellaire’s Police Chief Byron Holloway referring to their 2009 texting while driving ban. Just down the road from his police station in West University, Officer Phil Clark says they’ve had quite a few more citations handed out for texting while driving in that same time period.
“Probably a few dozen, I don’t know exactly”
Police Chief Holloway believes his small number of citations comes down to an inability to really police the ban.
“Part of it is the difficulty in enforcing it and making the case in court because you stop somebody it appears that they’re texting but then it really gets down to the point of the person saying “No I wasn’t texting” and the officer saying “Well it really looked like you were.”
So should Representative Tom Craddick’s second proposal of this House bill succeed statewide, Holloway thinks this will remove confusion about where the law does and doesn’t exist.
“I think that you’ll probably see more enforcement but I also think that you’ll see a greater degree of compliance with the motorist.”
The current law in place in 23 Texas cities, including Missouri City, Galveston and Brownsville says it’s illegal to text while in a driving lane and at a stop light. For admitted serial red light texter Susan Kirby stop light downtime with her smart phone is where she can stay on top of her busy life.
“Lots of things to keep up with. I have an elderly parent-in-law in town, one in Alabama, plus work, it’s just a never ending supply of emails and text messages. I have sat a traffic light before and have been able to clear 5 or 8 emails out of my inbox so I don’t have to deal with them when I get home.”
Kirby’s situation is not unique, a number of people who responded to our Public Insight Network query about texting whilst driving admitted to doing something similar at a stop light. The question is: Does Kirby believe a statewide law would really put a halt to her behavior?
“If reminded frequently enough about it, probably so. After many, many year of seatbelt laws most of us are aware that there’s a seatbelt law and a fine, but that took years.”
Bellaire Police Chief Byron Holloway agrees that lack of education on the law is one reason people don’t always follow it. He hopes that’s changing though, especially after his literal run in with a phone user.
“Occasionally you might have someone say, 'Oh my phone rang and I reached down to answer it. Which was the case of a young man that actually drove into the back of my car not quite two years ago.'”
Representative Tom Craddick has filed House Bill 63 in honor of Alex Brown, who lost her life through texting while driving.
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