by Sanya Mansoor, The Texas Tribune
The Texas House on Wednesday passed a statewide ban on texting while driving.
Members voted 113-32 to tentatively approve the legislation, which will get a final vote in the House before it can proceed to the Senate. A Senate committee has passed a similar measure.
Texas is one of four states that do not have a statewide ban on texting and driving.
Under the measure passed by the House, offenders would be charged with a misdemeanor and be fined $25 to $99. Repeat offenders would have to pay between $100 and $200 in fines.
For years, the bill’s author, state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has pushed legislation that would penalize drivers who use their phones on the road.
In 2015 and 2013, Craddick’s proposal passed the House but died in the Senate. In 2011, it traveled through both chambers only to be vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who said it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”
About three dozen Texas cities already have a texting-and-driving ban in place. Cities would still be allowed to implement ordinances that are stricter than the proposed state law.
In a tweet, House Speaker Joe Straus congratulated Craddick on what he called “common-sense” legislation.
Opponents of the bill raised concerns about how a police officer could tell that a person was texting, especially because the legislation said officers could not take and inspect the phone.
“I find it absolutely incredulous, except for Superman, who can tell what you are doing on your phone,” said Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Houston Democrat, who noted law enforcement may not be able to distinguish between someone who is texting or using GPS.
In response, Craddick said that law enforcement have said they can consistently tell if people are texting.
Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, tacked an amendment onto the bill that says police officers cannot arrest people for texting while driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that every day in the United States, more than eight people are killed in crashes that involve a distracted driver.
Craddick noted Wednesday that more and more families lose loved ones to distracted driving and no Texas laws target the offense.
“That’s the sad part because those families have somehow been affected by some type of accident or death that’s happened because of no texting while driving [ban],” Craddick said.,