Texas Senate to consider law that bans texting and driving

Dec. 26, 2012 at 6:26 a.m.
Updated Dec. 27, 2012 at 6:27 a.m.

Thousands of people die each year because of distracted driving across the United States.

In Texas, more than 100,000 vehicles were involved in distraction-related crashes in 2009 and, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, many of those were caused by texting and driving.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, hopes to change that by passing Senate Bill 28 in the 2013 Texas Legislature, which would make Texas one of 40 states to ban text-based communication while operating a vehicle.

Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor is on the legislative committee for the Sheriff's Association of Texas, which represents the association to the legislature on matters about law enforcement.

O'Connor said there is no doubt texting and driving is causing more accidents.

"You are talking tons of iron, and there are so many things that can happen in a split second. Some of it, you are lucky to respond and react paying full attention to it and under full consciousness," O'Connor said. "You take that dimension away and you get a distraction. ... Texting alone could cause significant injury or loss of life."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 5,474 people died in distraction-related crashes in 2009, and at least 18 percent of those distractions were reported to be cellphone use.

However, in the month of June 2011, more than 196 billion text messages were sent or received in the United States, up nearly 50 percent from June 2009.

Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said his department does not track cellphone use on accident reports because the use is not against the law in Texas.

"But I have read enough of the reports to know it is present and it has been there," Craig said. "When we talk about distracted drivers, that is a big issue. I believe it to be a big issue here in Victoria."

He said he would support legislation banning texting and driving.

O'Connor, however, said such legislation would be hard to enforce because texting and driving is hard to detect.

"As an investigator, from a law enforcement perspective, we want to make sure that if we put these laws out, we have some means of prosecuting," O'Connor said. "If not, why put them out there?"

Goliad County Sheriff Kirby Brumby said he sees the same problem with the bill.

"If you are trying to formulate words in your mind and type with your fingers, you aren't paying attention. You take your focus off of driving and I do think it is dangerous," Brumby said. "But how can you enforce that? That I cannot answer."

Brumby said the process of subpoenaing phone records is a battle that would be time-consuming and costly, especially for smaller towns.

O'Connor does not believe a ban on texting and driving will stop the behavior, but he said it could slow it down.

"We are an impatient world today, with regard to communication and it's not going to change. If anything, you adjust," O'Connor said.

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