06272017Headline:

Dallas, Texas

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Bryan Pope
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Is Texas Finally Ready to Ban Texting While Driving?

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On March 31 along a state highway in south Texas, the driver of a pickup truck ran head-on into a church bus traveling in the opposite direction—killing 13 senior members of the First Baptist Church in New Braunfels. Video prior to the accident showed the truck to be driving erratically, and at least one witness claims that the driver of the truck admitted to texting while behind the wheel after exiting his vehicle.

Unlike 46 other states, Texas has thus far been resistant to passing a law that would ban texting while driving in the state.  But now that former Governor Rick Perry has accepted the Secretary of Energy position in the Trump administration, supporters of a texting ban are hopeful that the time for the law has finally come.

Until the last couple of years, Governor Greg Abbott has sent mixed signals regarding such legislation, saying in 2014 that like Perry did in 2011, he would veto any such measure. But after legislation cleared the Texas House of Representatives, Abbott said in 2015 that he’d give it “deep consideration.” However, the proposed law never reached his desk, and texting while driving remains legal in Texas.

On March 15 after a long and heated debate, the Texas House passed House Bill 62 that would ban texting while driving in the state. It also prohibits an officer from taking a phone if the driver is found to be in violation and does not assign points to a driver’s license. If signed by the governor, the measure would make using a phone while driving a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a fine ranging from $25 to $99 and up to $200 for repeat offenders.

This is the fourth time former House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has tried to pass legislation that would make it against the law to text and drive in Texas. This time, the House voted 114-32 to pass the legislation with an amendment to avoid double jeopardy to prevent motorists from being fined twice if they are pulled over in a county with a local ordinance. More than 95 cities in Texas have passed local ordinances banning some form of phone use while driving.

Although Texas is one of only four states without a texting while driving ban in place, the state does ban drivers in school zones, those under the age of 18, and bus drivers carrying minors from using phones while driving.