Rarely do Texas trial lawyers and “red mea”t Republicans find common ground. But they did this week on the Texas House floor during the statewide texting-while-driving ban debate.
A similar measure was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011. However, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is hopeful this year’s version will win his approval. H.B, 63 creates a misdemeanor offense when drivers read, write or send text messages while driving.
State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, nearly gutted the bill with an amendment prohibiting police officers from stopping a driver for the sole infraction of texting while driving. The vote was 72-72 and required verification. Liberals were concerned about minorities being unfairly targeted, and conservatives were worried about losing ground to the nanny state.
A few amendments did survive the rancorous debate. One would allow drivers to look at their text messages if they reasonably believed the message concerned an emergency situation.
Though there is no doubt texting while driving is dangerous, so are a plethora of other activities that distract drivers from the road. The question becomes are we going to ban eating, changing the radio station, putting on lipstick, or talking on the phone while driving, too? All of these actions can keep drivers’ eyes diverted for long enough to cause a crash. In fact, drivers trying to hide their texting by lowering their phones take more attention off the road than those with heightened displays.
Though the bill has passed a major hurdle, the state Senate version has yet to hit the upper chamber. And remember, the membership of the Senate has changed quite dramatically since last session.