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TMCNet:  Perry holds firm against texting-while-driving ban

[February 26, 2013]

Perry holds firm against texting-while-driving ban

Feb 27, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Just hours after a tear-laden House committee hearing Tuesday on a proposed texting-while-driving ban, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry said that Perry continues to see education rather than regulation as the solution for the increasingly widespread but dangerous practice.

The reaction from Perry aide Lucy Nashed would seem to bode ill for state Rep. Tom Craddick's second attempt to push through a law barring adult drivers from texting or emailing while driving a moving vehicle. Perry vetoed a similar bill by the Midland Republican and former House speaker in 2011, calling it a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults." "Gov. Perry continues to believe texting while driving is reckless and irresponsible, and as he noted last session, current law already prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from texting or using a cell phone while driving," Nashed told the American-Statesman in an email. "The key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is information and education, not government micromanagement." Craddick, after listening to a series of emotional witnesses replay the loss of loved ones to texting-related wrecks, said after the hearing that he hadn't yet spoken to Perry about the proposed law this session.

"If we get the bill passed, I do intend to go talk to (Perry)," said Craddick, who said he doesn't engage in text messaging at all, driving or not. "It's all about saving lives, not about whether I text or not." He said education alone won't be enough, that making something against the law has an effective deterrent effect.

"It's awareness," Craddick said. "People will do what they're asked to do, the vast majority of them." The legislation, House Bill 63, would impose a fine of up to $100 for anyone caught reading, writing or sending a "text-based communication" on a hand-held device while driving. That would include other portable electronic equipment, such as notebooks and tablets. Doing any of the above while the car is stopped wouldn't be a violation.

The maximum fine for a second offense would be $200.

Jennifer Zamora-Jamison, from Roanoke near Fort Worth, founded Decide2Drive after her husband Javier Zamora, an Iraq War veteran, died in 2007 when another driver swerved into his vehicle while reaching for her cell phone.

"I hope that Gov. Perry understands this is not about rights infringement, about putting government in your car," Zamora-Jamison said. "It's about holding people accountable." Of the 3,048 traffic fatalities in Texas in 2011, 13.4 percent were attributed to distracted driving, according to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions, an insurance industry trade group. According to the coalition, reaction time doubles to between three and four seconds when a person is texting while driving.

At least 39 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving as have 23 Texas cities. Austin was the first to do so, in 2009.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the committee about a Sam Houston State University student who died in a car accident.

"At the moment of impact, she was texting," Cook said. "If we had passed this bill (in 2011), she might still be alive. I do pray to God that the governor will sign this legislation." The committee members, none of whom expressed opposition to the bill, are expected to vote on it early next month. A similar Senate bill, carried by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, hasn't yet had a committee hearing, and Senate passage is by no means guaranteed.

The 2011 texting legislation was never granted a vote in a Senate committee, and cleared that chamber only after Zaffirini managed to get it amended onto another bill. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, was among 10 senators who voted against that amendment in 2011. He was noncommittal Tuesday when asked if he would grant the texting bill a hearing.

"We'll see what it looks like when it gets out of the House," Nichols said.

___ (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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