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Texting and driving ban could become state law in Texas

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by Tashika Varma

The Texas House of Representatives approved a statewide ban on texting while driving on. But the Senate, including Gov. Rick Perry, voted against the ban and Texans will not join 39 other states and ban texting and driving

SMU freshman Charlie Weber said he watched in horror as his friend snuck in a text while driving down Hillcrest Road in Dallas. Weber, a Kansas native, has been accustomed to a ban on texting while driving, and back home it was rare to see friends or family pull out their phone on the road.

“I know Texas is always the last state to make something illegal, but texting while driving leads to a lot of accidents and doesn’t make any sense when you could pull over to the side to text or just wait five minutes till you reach your destination,” Weber said.

The Texas House of Representatives approved a statewide ban on texting while driving on April 17. After a final vote on April 18, the bill went to the state Senate. The legislation would ban texting, emailing, reading texts or instant messaging while driving. The use of GPS or talking on the phone would still be allowed. If approved by the state Senate and Gov. Rick Perry, Texans will join 39 other states that have outlawed texting while driving.

Texas does have a law prohibiting teenage drivers from cell phone use, but the new bill would apply to people of all ages. If the bill passes, drivers that are caught texting while driving could face a $100 fine and a misdemeanor traffic ticket.

Sgt. Lance Koppa, spokesman for the Highland Park Department of Public Safety, said that the Highland Park Police department would be ready to enforce the ban on texting and driving.

“If this passes and becomes state law and is a new part of our traffic code, we would start with educating the motoring public on the new law,” Koppa said. “Enforcement would be similar to the enforcement already in place in school zones during those times when use of a wireless communication device is prohibited.”

For enforcement in school zones, Highland Park police first make sure that the flashing lights that signal to a driver that he or she is entering a school zone are working, according to Koppa. Since Highland Park police drive Tahoes and the cars sit up higher than most, police officers then keep a look out for drivers looking down with their cell phones in their hands. If they suspect texting, they pull the driver over.

SMU English professor Bruce Levy, an avid bicyclist, knows how dangerous texting while driving is to other drivers. But he is also concerned about the safety for pedestrians and bikers.

“It’s astonishing that we would we even have to think twice about this. It should go without saying that it should be illegal to text while driving,” Levy said. “Driving is serious business and texting distracts.”

In the fall of 2010, an SMU student was driving when she struck another SMU student who was walking to the library. According to The Daily Campus, the student admitted to looking at her cell phone while driving when she heard a crashing sound.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), texting while driving is six times more dangerous compared to driving while intoxicated.

The prospect for the bill is still uncertain since Gov. Perry vetoed a similar measure in 2011. According to news reports, Perry said he would wait until the new bill reaches his desk before taking a position.

SMU sophomore Geenah Krisht, who is from Arkansas, where the use of handheld cell phones is completely prohibited, couldn’t believe that Texas allows drivers to text and drive.

“I definitely think texting and driving should be banned in Texas. It’s been banned for a while in my hometown,” Krisht said. “Studies have shown how much texting inhibits your ability to drive.”

According to the website Texting and Driving Safety, 23 percent of automobile accidents involve cell phones. That’s equivalent to 1.3 million crashes a year. A total of 39 states plus Washington D.C. prohibit texting while driving and 10 states prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones.

Recent SMU graduate and Texas native Marika Wynne believes that a ban on texting while driving is not the way to make the roads safer. “I think people should have to renew their driving test every five years,” Wynne said. “It’s not that they can’t text and drive, it’s that they can’t drive.”

Weber foresees some negatives to the bill since it won’t apply to GPS use or phone calls.

“Texting is just as bad as using Google maps for directions or checking an email for an address,” he said.

Levy agrees with Weber that this bill will not be enough. The way to make the roads safer is with self-driving cars, Levy said.

“Anything that takes the eyes off the road and causes the hands to fumble around and leave the wheel is inherently dangerous,” he said. “Driverless technology is coming. When it is here, it will be safe for the person behind the wheel to text. But not until then.”

Although Gov. Rick Perry did veto similar legislation last session, his office would not confirm his position had the bill passed this time. He has admitted that texting while driving was dangerous, he called a ban too much government interference.

Tashika Varma is a senior at Southern Methodist University majoring in communication studies and minoring in journalism. She can be reached at tvarma@smu.edu

  • Elliott

    To me this law makes no sense… simply because a driver can be just as distracted when looking at GPS directions while driving. So when a cop sees a driver looking at his/her phone, how is the officer going to know whether the driver was actually “texting” or following GPS navigation when pulling the driver over? If anything, they should make cellphone use illegal (unless it’s hands-free) while driving… but that doesn’t necessarily stop the problem either.

  • Justin

    Agree, how could they prove you were texting? I mean is it crime to look at your phone if your using as a GPS? That means its okay if you have a car with it installed, but not okay if its on your smaller screened phone? Its almost a punishment for not having a car with GPS built in.

  • Renae A. Storey

    On June 30th 2013 my step son and his girlfriend were driving on the highway in Hillsboro Texas, when she decided that texting someone was more important then the safety of herself and her passenger. She didn’t see the 18 wheeler merging on to the highway when she drifted over in the lane where the truck was getting on. She was doing about 75mph when she hit the left corner of the trailer, all the impact was absorbed on the passenger where my stepson was at, he didn’t see it coming. The ford escape he was in flipped up in the air and landed back on the highway on its roof. My step son was not wearing his seatbelt therefore he ended up on the floor board under the dash. Some motorists had come to the car and got him out, he had head trauma, a broken leg and his right right arm was severed almost completely off. He was careflighted to the hospital in Waco where he was in ICU. The drs did everything they could but his brain had too much trauma. His parents had to make that desicion to let him go, and on July 3rd we watched as he took his last breath. He was 32 years old and a father of 4. He girlfriend? She had broken her finger and had a few scratches. That was it. We didn’t find out she was texting while driving until we read it in the paper. She had told the trooper on the scene. I wish they would pass the law to not text and drive here in Texas, it will save lives. REST IN PEACE RAUL T. MUNOZ JR. WE LOVE AND MISS YOU.

  • Debbie

    I haven’t had or loss anyone from phone or texting accidents but, I would like to help get a law in this city and state and out laying county’s to get it stopped and that it will be breaking the law and they will be find if caught doing so. I have found since living in this state they are ranked number (19) in the country for worst driving state. And I really don’t know the numbers for those killed from texting and talking on the phone. But I would love to set on the board.

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