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Con: Regulating texting a freedom issue

By DAVID TEWES
Dec. 26, 2010 at 6:26 a.m.


Legislative Preview Schedule

Dec. 24: Rep. Geanie Morrison

Dec. 25: Senator Glenn Hegar

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Monday: Transportation

Tuesday: Healthcare

Wednesday: Business

Thursday: Law Enforcement

Friday: Faith

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Jan. 3: Environment

ISSUE

The debate over whether texting and driving should be outlawed is one that's not likely to be resolved soon, if at all.

Those for and against allowing the practice are quick to drag up statistics supporting their positions, making it even more difficult to end the debate.

Law officers, civil rights activists and even everyday people weigh in on the issue in this look at the topic.

Victoria resident Philip Townsend doesn't like the idea that the Texas Legislature may act in 2011 to take away his right to text while driving.

It doesn't mean he thinks it's a good idea, but it's a matter of principle for him.

"I think it is stupid and dangerous and irresponsible to text and drive," Townsend said. "But it's a freedom issue."

While he admits to occasionally texting while driving, he calls it an irresponsible calculated risk. That still doesn't give the government the right to poke its nose into his private life, he said.

"It's just that the government doesn't belong there," Townsend said. "It's too personal."

Dotty Griffith, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said there is really no reason for the Legislature to pass another law to deal with something already regulated.

"It's redundant to outlaw texting, because there are already plenty of laws against distracted and poor driving when it results in accidents or dangerous driving," she said.

That's why lawmakers should go after driver behavior, not what the person is fiddling with, Griffith said.

"Moreover, texting is going to be somewhat difficult to enforce," she said. "Who can say what a driver is doing that causes them to be distracted?"

Is the driver distracted by a cell phone? Or changing the buttons on the radio? What about talking to a passenger in the back seat?

"The ACLU believes it's just one more reason for police to stop people without any real suspicion of anything, even if there's no bad driving evidence," Griffith said.

And some would argue that prohibiting drivers from texting has no effect anyway. The Highway Loss Data Institute reported in September that was the finding of a new study by its researchers.

"In fact, such bans are associated with a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes," the report states. "This finding is based on comparisons of claims in four states before and after texting ban, compared with patterns of claims in nearby states."

So why was there an increase in the frequency of accidents after bans were enacted?

The drivers might have been moving their phones down and out of sight when they texted, in recognition that what they were doing was illegal, according to the report. This could exacerbate the risk of texting by taking drivers' eyes further from the road and for a longer time, the report stated.

Related story: PRO: Texting is a leading cause of wrecks among younger drivers

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