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Editorial: Fourth try for a statewide ban on texting while driving should be a charm

Nov. 30, 2016 at 10:31 p.m.

For the fourth time, state Rep. Tom Craddick has filed a bill that would address the plague of smartphone usage while behind the wheel.

We hope the fourth time is a charm.

Not only does the Midland Republican's measure — along with one filed by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo — have the potential to save lives, it also would bring regulatory clarity to a state now operating under a mishmash of local laws. About 90 Texas cities have passed some sort of ordinance limiting smartphone usage while driving, but they vary.

While common sense should tell people it is not safe to text and drive, common sense sometimes is too much to expect. It did not appear much in evidence when former Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a strongly supported bipartisan measure passed by a previous Legislature.

Perry attempted to explain his veto, which came despite overwhelming public support for the ban, by declaring the measure a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults."

We can imagine no excuse for current Gov. Greg Abbott to oppose the measure we hope to see make its way to his desk next year.

One thing of which we are certain is that Craddick is not giving up. He has seen his bills either vetoed, by Perry in 2011, or stashed away in committee. The result is that Texas is now one of only four U.S. states without such a ban.

That is unfortunate because the dangers continue to increase. Figures released recently by the National Safety Council indicate 2016 is likely to be the deadliest year on the nation's roads since 2007. In the first six months of the year, more than 19,000 people died in traffic wrecks.

Some of that increase is due to increasing traffic volume on more congested roads, but that is not the only reason. Distracted driving is a prime culprit.

According to the National Transportation and Highway Safety Administration, texting while driving increases the chances of a wreck by 23 times. In Texas, Craddick has said, distracted driving led to nearly 500 deaths last year.

His House Bill 63 would make it a criminal offense to read, write or send a cellphone message while driving. Making or receiving calls on hands-free cellphones would be allowed, but a driver could not send emails or text data.

In the past, we have equated the dwindling resistance to such a law with previous efforts to outlaw drunken driving, or to require seat belt use. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine anyone opposing either. Those laws, while certainly not stopping drunken driving or driving without a seat belt, have saved lives. So will this one.

It is past time for lawmakers to agree on such a measure and for Abbott to prove he cares about safety on Texas roadways by signing it into law.



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