Editorial: It's time to ban texting while driving

Published on Friday, 17 February 2017 12:05 - Written by

Will Patterson liked his new job. It was hard work, helping to rebuild a highway in West Texas, but it was outdoors and the pay was good.

But he never saw his first paycheck. The young East Texas man was struck and killed by a distracted driver after only four days on the job. Cell phone records show the driver was texting while driving. She missed the warning signs and the traffic cones, and plowed into the work convoy. The driver was never charged with anything.

That’s because texting while driving is still legal in Texas.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014. The department doesn’t break out the crashes involving only texting. But it does go on to say, “At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.”

State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is again sponsoring a bill to address distracted driving. He recently brought Will Patterson’s family - and other families of distracted driving victims - to Austin to speak with lawmakers.

“The goal here is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities,” Craddick told the Tyler Paper. “I believe that a statewide ban on texting while driving is a critical step in the overall effort to keep our roads safe. The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to make our roadways safer. I am confident in our Texas law enforcement officers’ ability to do their job and enforce our state’s laws.”

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A similar bill passed both the House and Senate in 2011, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who called it “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” He was running for president at the time.

In 2013, the House again passed a bill, but it went nowhere in the Senate, without a clear signal of support from Gov. Greg Abbott.

It’s time to pass this law.

The common objections simply don’t hold water. Those who argue, as Perry did, that texting-while-driving laws are an infringement of Texans’ rights don’t understand the nature of rights, and why we regulate driving.

Driving isn’t a right. And because the safety of others is involved, it’s appropriate that the state regulates it.

That’s why we have drinking and driving laws.

And according to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, texting is worse.

“The results show those who occupied themselves with text messages, either by reading or writing them, had slower reactions times by 35 percent,” the study found. “By comparison, drunk drivers displayed a 12 percent decrease in reaction time.”

Just last week, the New York Times reported that traffic deaths had risen for the second straight year, after a years-long decline.

The improving economy means more cars on the road, but the government also points to “data suggesting an increase in distracted driving.”

Texas lawmakers can do something about this. Let’s ban texting while driving.