Texas Senate to consider law that bans texting and driving

CURRENT TEXTING AND DRIVING LAWS IN TEXAS

•  Ban on all cellphone use (hand-held and hands-free) for bus drivers and novice drivers

• Ban on texting for novice drivers

• Ban on texting for bus drivers

•  Ban on using hand-held cellphones and texting in school zones

Source: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

ADDITIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT LEGISLATION

•  Senate Bill 52 seeks to grant tuition exemptions for permanently disabled peace officers.

• Senate Bill 10 would create financial responsibility when using a wireless communication device or other portable electronic device in a crash.

•  Senate Bill 94 and House Bill 89 seek to continue the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force.

Source: Texas Legislature Online

CELLPHONE USE AND US LAWS

•  Ten states, the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.

• 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers. Twelve of these laws were enacted in 2010.

• Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent of driving blind for the length of a football field at 55 mph.

• At any given moment during daylight hours, more than 800,000 vehicles are being driven by someone using a hand-held cellphone.

Source: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; e

Thousands of people die each year because of distracted driving across the United States.

In Texas, more than 100,000 vehicles were involved in distraction-related crashes in 2009 and, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, many of those were caused by texting and driving.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, hopes to change that by passing Senate Bill 28 in the 2013 Texas Legislature, which would make Texas one of 40 states to ban text-based communication while operating a vehicle.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor is on the legislative committee for the Sheriff's Association of Texas, which represents the association to the legislature on matters about law enforcement.

O'Connor said there is no doubt texting and driving is causing more accidents.

"You are talking tons of iron, and there are so many things that can happen in a split second. Some of it, you are lucky to respond and react paying full attention to it and under full consciousness," O'Connor said. "You take that dimension away and you get a distraction. ... Texting alone could cause significant injury or loss of life."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people died in distraction-related crashes in 2009, and at least 18 percent of those distractions were reported to be cellphone use.

However, in the month of June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the United States, up nearly 50 percent from June 2009.

Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said his department does not track cellphone use on accident reports because the use is not against the law in Texas.

"But I have read enough of the reports to know it is present and it has been there," Craig said. "When we talk about distracted drivers, that is a big issue. I believe it to be a big issue here in Victoria."

He said he would support legislation banning texting and driving.

O'Connor, however, said such legislation would be hard to enforce because texting and driving is hard to detect.

"As an investigator, from a law enforcement perspective, we want to make sure that if we put these laws out, we have some means of prosecuting," O'Connor said. "If not, why put them out there?"

Goliad County Sheriff Kirby Brumby said he sees the same problem with the bill.

"If you are trying to formulate words in your mind and type with your fingers, you aren't paying attention. You take your focus off of driving and I do think it is dangerous," Brumby said. "But how can you enforce that? That I cannot answer."

Brumby said the process of subpoenaing phone records is a battle that would be time-consuming and costly, especially for smaller towns.

O'Connor does not believe a ban on texting and driving will stop the behavior, but he said it could slow it down.

"We are an impatient world today, with regard to communication and it's not going to change. If anything, you adjust," O'Connor said.

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