By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun
State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) is hoping public awareness and sobering statistics will help aid in passage of legislation aimed at curbing a dangerous habit — texting behind the wheel.
Cook is a joint author of House Bill 63, introduced by former House Speaker Tom Craddick in the 83rd Legislature. The bill has the backing of several house members, and similar legislation in the Senate is aimed at helping save lives and make Texas roads and highways safer.
“It’s the most dangerous activity going on in cars and trucks today,” Cook said. “It kills lots of people, both that are (texting) and those that are on the other side of the road, minding their own business.
“I think it’s extremely important.”
The bills would generally make it a crime for Texas drivers to send or read text messages while operating a vehicle. Exceptions for law enforcement or reporting an emergency are written into the proposed legislation.
The problem of “distracted driving” — such as texting while driving — has grown as Texans become more “mobile” with smartphones and the popularity of texting has continued to grow.
“I think it’s in the best interests of public safety,” said Corsicana Police Chief Randy Bratton. Bratton said texting while driving is many times an underlying cause of accidents and traffic violations.
“The trend to texting has grown,” Bratton said. “I think it’s wise of the legislature to adapt to the social media innovations and try to address those accordingly when operating a motor vehicle.”
A study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that texting while driving creates a “crash risk” 23 times greater than a “non-distracted” driver.
The same study said sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
A study by the Pew Project found that of all “cell phone-related” tasks, including talking, dialing or reaching for a phone, texting while driving is the most dangerous.
Cook introduced similar legislation in the 2011 legislature that passed both the Texas House and Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry. He’s hopeful the political climate — and public opinion — will result in approval by the governor this year.
“I think the governor has probably heard from a lot of people about how dangerous this is,” Cook said. “Most companies now ban their employees from texting while driving.”
Cook added that a major wireless carrier — AT&T — has launched an extensive awareness campaign discouraging adults and teens from texting while operating a vehicle.
“I think you are seeing much more awareness,” Cook said. “I remember several years ago there was a “push back” over talking on cell phones while in school zones ... and the next session, we got it passed.”
Cook said that he won’t give up the fight to get the bill passed as along as he’s a representative.
“This is a very important piece of legislation that needs to be enacted,” Cook added. “I think we’ll be successful this time.”
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