Stand on the Drag during rush hour traffic and watch the drivers parade before you, playing with their phones as they go by. Yesterday, over the course of 10 minutes, we counted (approximately) 14 drivers consumed by tiny screens.
In the past, Gov. Rick Perry chose to ignore the parallel dangers between texting while driving and drinking and driving — which is illegal — but the rest of us Texans can no longer afford to do so. Ideological debates rage over the government’s size and role in this state and country, but no matter what side of those divides you fall on, understand this: Every day more than 15 people are killed and 1,200 injured in accidents involving distracted drivers in general, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
State lawmakers filed three bills this past November to address drivers distracted by handheld devices. The bills, according to The Texas Tribune, are HB 63, filed by state Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) and numerous other coauthors; HB 41, filed by state Rep. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio); and SB 28, filed by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), a companion to HB 63. Craddick’s and Zaffirini’s bills would ban typing on a handheld device for the purpose of sending an electronic message while driving, while Menendez’s bill seeks to make any use of a cell phone without a hands-free device illegal. “Banning texting while driving will undoubtedly save lives,” Zaffirini said in a statement.
In 2011, a bill similar to the ones recently filed passed in the Legislature. But that law is not on the books because Gov. Perry vetoed it, saying, through a spokesman, “[The] key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is information and education, not government and mismanagement,” according to an account at the time in the Austin American-Statesman. Austin, El Paso, Galveston and San Antonio are among some two dozen Texas cities that currently ban texting while driving. The District of Columbia, Guam and 34 states ban texting while driving, too. Texas could have joined that roster but, thanks to Perry, texting drivers still predominate on many Texas roads, legally. The push for safety-interested legislation against texting while driving is not new. Prior to the 2011 attempts, Zaffirini initially introduced a text-ban proposal in 2009.
“Texting while driving is reckless and irresponsible. I support measures that make our roads safer for everyone, but House Bill 242 is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults,” Perry said in a press release about his 2011 veto. Perry’s 2011 statement distinguished between the ban proposed and those laws already on the books in Texas that bar driving teenagers from texting and all drivers from texting in school zones. Perry’s message described the “government’s role” as “legitimate” with those rules for teens and school zones and as “overreaching” with a ban against texting adult drivers cruising on highways.
In 2013, when phone screens have become more consuming and numerous, Perry’s ideology-driven illogic about bills banning texting while driving should not prevail. Republicans and Democrats support such bills. Voters, especially college-aged voters, many of whom text messaged long before they ever drove, should support legislation that will lead to improved safety for all of us.