Senator Judith Zaffirini (D- Laredo) introduced Senate Bill 31 this week, which would make using a cell phone (actually, a "wireless communication device") to text while driving a statewide criminal offense. A number of municipalities already have ordinances prohibiting the practice, but Zaffirini's bill would standardize the offenses and penalties throughout the state.
As a municipal court judge, a city prosecutor and a city attorney (in three different jurisdictions), I'm all in favor of people not texting while driving. It's a dangerous and thoughtless practice (full disclosure - in which I have engaged on numerous occasions), and puts everyone around you in danger. The evidence and statistics are clear: texting while driving is at least as risky as drinking and driving. Don't do it.
Here's my question: as introduced, the bill deals with texting while driving as follows:
Transportation Code Section 545.4251(b). An operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. (Emphasis mine)
The issue I have is with the last five words. Many of the ordinances banning texting while driving state that "stopped" excludes being stopped at a light or in heavy traffic - in other words, you have to be off of any public roadway and not moving. Sen. Zaffirini's bill does not. One of the things most drivers (I haven't taken a poll) get frustrated with is the person in front of you who doesn't move when the light turns green - sometimes for so long that you miss the light. What's that person doing? TEXTING OR POSTING ON FACEBOOK! YOU know it. I know it. Seems to me that Ms. Zaffirini's bill helps protect others from the texting driver, but does nothing to protect the driver (and others) from road rage committed by the angry people behind him or her. I call it a good start, but not enough to fully deal with the issue of distracted driving. What say you?
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