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Notebook Archives



Constable's Notebook - April 2011

During the last legislative session more than a dozen bills were filed regarding cell phone use while driving that ranged from banning cell phone use while driving, requiring users to be at least 18, prohibiting cell phone use in school zones and requiring hands free use. In the end the legislature banned cell phone use by drivers under 18, by anyone in school zones and school bus drivers while transporting students. This session a dozen bills would prohibit cell phone use while driving, limit the use to hands free and ban texting while driving.

During the interim several Texas cities including Austin passed local ordinances that prohibited texting and internet surfing while driving. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said at the time that "multi-tasking while driving is not a good practice." A report of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration appears to back him up with their finding that the
number-one cause of “driver distraction” is the use of cell phones. This accounts for 80% of all accidents, far more than drunk drivers which only account for 33% of accidents (some accidents involve distracted driving and alcohol). Last year the National Safety Council reported that cell phone use was a cause of 1.6 million accidents that included 500,000 injuries and 6,000 fatalities. A recent study by the Virginia Tech Driving Institute found that drivers who resort to texting while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.

It’s not like American drivers are unaware of the dangers of using cell phones or sending texts or e-mails while driving. While a survey conducted by the Institute for Highway Safety found that 84% of Americans believe that cell phone use while driving increases the risk of accidents, the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company reported that 73% of Americans talk on cell phones while driving anyway. The same survey found that 84% would support at least some restrictions of cell phone use while driving.

No states have yet banned all cell phone use while driving, but 30 states have banned text messaging, 28 states banned cell phone use by novice drivers, 18 states prohibit bus drivers from using cell phones while driving and 8 states allow only hands-free cell phones. Five states have actually prohibited cities from implementing bans on cell phone use while driving.

It seems likely that the legislature will pass some additional restrictions on cell phone use while driving. Former House Speaker Tom Craddick is motivated to pass HB 243 to ban texting while driving in Texas by in part the recent death of 17-year-old Alexandra Brown who rolled her pickup truck and died on her way to school while texting and driving. In the weeks preceding her death, Alexandra’s cell phone indicated that more than 10,000 text messages had been sent or received. Common sense should be enough to convince drivers who know better, to avoid distractions and alcohol when driving but far too many drivers lack common sense and pose a real danger to themselves and to the rest of us. “I knew she was going do something big,” her father said. "But something as small as a text message ended that."



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