Friday, April 8, 2011

Bill to ban texting while driving on cusp of passage

State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland) has proposed legislation (HB243) that would ban drivers in Texas from sending or reading text-based messages while driving. The measure passed 124-16 in a preliminary vote and will go before the House for formal approval today. Should it pass, the companion bill in the Senate will take up the matter.

Supporters of the bill argue that banning texting while driving will make roads safer as there will be one less distraction for drivers to deal with. Opponents cited privacy concerns as a reason for voting against the proposed legislation. In response to critics who raised questions about privacy rights, Rep. Craddick answered:

"Driving is not a right. Driving is a responsibility and a privilege."

While that is what the courts have ruled, motorists are still afforded their Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure while driving a car. Calling something a privilege does not give the government carte blanche to do as it wishes.

But more interesting that Rep. Craddick's parsing of rights and privileges is another statement attributed to him by the Houston Chronicle:
Citing research, Craddick said texting while driving is 20 times more dangerous than drunk driving.
I don't know to what research Mr. Craddick is citing but I think he's right that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. Let's think about it for a second. Most drunk driving incidents occur after dark when there are fewer people on the roads. During the day roads are jammed and if you take a look around you'll see plenty of drivers on their cell phones.

According to the House Research Organization:

CSHB 243 would promote driver safety by prohibiting drivers from texting, instant messaging, or e-mailing. Texting may not be the only distraction while driving, but it is one of the most dangerous. The bill would introduce a commonsense safety law that would help deter this dangerous behavior.  
Accumulating research resoundingly concludes that texting while driving distracts drivers and increases response times to sudden traffic incidents. Like drunk driving, driving while texting has injured and killed drivers, passengers, and innocent bystanders. 

And what punishment will the state mete out for violators who endanger their fellow Texans by reading and sending text messages while driving? What will these motorists who are more dangerous than drunk drivers get when they step in front of a judge?

Jail time? No. Probation? No.

It'll be a Class C misdemeanor with a $200 fine.

That's right. For committing a crime that, according to the bill's author, is twenty times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated, you'll get a traffic ticket with a maximum fine of $200. Go to the window, ask for a deferred, pay a fine and it'll be dismissed in 90 days.

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