Statewide texting-and-driving ban to go into effect after decade-long battle

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State Sen. Judith Zaffirini sponsors the texting-and-driving ban in the Senate, where it passed for the first time since 2011.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Texas House Rep. Tom Craddick’s texting-and-driving ban goes into effect statewide today after four failed attempts at passage.

The ban, known as House Bill 62, prohibits reading, writing or sending electronic messages using a portable electronic device while driving.

“I was elated not only that the state would have this, but for all of the people that had worked hard on it,” said Craddick, R-Midland, of the bill’s signing by Gov. Greg Abbott. “It’s all about safety and to guarantee that when you back out of your driveway, that you’re driving on the safest street or highway as possible.”

Anyone who writes, reads or sends an electronic message using a portable wireless communication device while driving will receive a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $99. However, if the defendant causes the death or serious bodily injury of another person while texting and driving, then they may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor with a fine of up to $4000 and a jail sentence of up to one year.

When Craddick filed the ban in 2011, it passed both the Texas House and Senate but was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry. The next two times Craddick tried to pass the ban, it passed in the House only to be killed in the Senate. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini sponsored the bill in the Senate, where it passed for the first time since 2011.

In June, when HB 62 was signed by Gov. Greg Abott, Texas was one of only four states to still lack a texting-and-driving ban. Two of those four states, however, banned it for minors.

After Craddick failed to get the ban enacted the first time, Midland, the major city in his district, decided to pass its own texting and driving prohibition.

Early on, critics of the bill, including Perry, said the ban was over-regulation of personal behavior. In his 2011 decision to veto the ban, Perry said he agreed that texting and driving is “reckless,” but that the key to dissuading the practice was through information and education, not a legal prohibition.

“I support measures to make roads safer for everyone, but (the texting and driving ban) is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults,” Perry said in his veto message.

Stories of families who lost children or other relatives contributed to Craddick’s desire to one day pass the ban. Some families would come session after session to testify on the importance of the ban, Craddick said. Other people that he spoke to said they would heed the ban if there was one, but because there wasn’t, they felt there was nothing preventing them from texting and driving.

“It will radiate across the state and save a lot of lives,” Craddick said. “I think it will have a very positive effect. It has in the other states that have passed it … I think it’s just going to help the overall safety in the state.”

Communications graduate student Ana Harris said she was surprised there wasn’t a statewide texting and driving ban, but due to the dangers of distracted driving, she said she is glad Texas finally put one in place.

“It is important that people are aware when they’re on the roads driving for the safety of everyone involved,” Harris said. “It’s a good thing that it’s going to be implemented statewide … People text and drive everywhere.”

Chemistry sophomore Caroline Anderson said a ban like this has been needed for a long time, especially for cities that lacked their own ban, such as her hometown of Dallas. Anderson said for young adults whose phones are practically extensions of their bodies, this ban could save lives.  

“I support it for sure because I feel like people need to be held accountable for their actions,” Anderson said. “Texting and driving is extremely dangerous … I know I’m guilty of it, and I need to be put in check sometimes.”