The debate over using personal communication devices while driving in the Lone Star State has reached the Texas State Capitol in Austin. In late January 2013, relatives of drivers, passengers and pedestrians who lost their lives in a text-messaging related automobile accidents sat in the Capitol with framed photographs of their dearly departed. It was an emotionally-charged legislative session as Jeanne Brown, mother of a teenage girl who was killed while driving to school in 2009, gave details about the accident.
While Texas residents inside the Capitol bills gave testimony in support of three proposals for a statewide ban on texting while driving, major wireless carrier AT&T lent its support outside on the steps of the legislative building. As part of its “It Can Wait” awareness campaign, the phone company set up an interactive simulation booth whereby people could experience the dangers of being distracted by text messages while operating a motor vehicle. AT&T representatives asked those gathered outside of the Capitol to sign a pledge that will show their willingness to stop texting while driving.
Two years ago, a bill that would effectively make text messaging while driving a moving violation was passed by Texas legislators. Governor Rick Perry issued a veto on that bill at the time, which sent legislators back to the drawing board. The Alex Brown Memorial Act, named after Jeanne Brown’s young daughter, would establish a definition of distracted driving. Another bill from Representative Jose Menendez of San Antonio goes a step further in preventing drivers from using smartphones, tablets or other wireless devices while their vehicles are in motion.
Supporters of a statewide ban in the Lone Star State include the Texas Medical Association and the Insurance Council of Texas. A spokesman from the Governor’s office explained that Rick Perry is aware of the public pressure, but that he believes that education, not enforcement, is the key to preventing further accidents.
Texas is not alone in this opposition to a statewide ban. As of early 2013, texting while driving was not prohibited in 11 states, although similar bills in the legislatures of Arizona, Florida, New Mexico and South Carolina are pending. Passing ordinances in this regard has been easier for 25 Texas municipalities, but there is still the complex issue of enforcement, which is one of the reasons Governor Perry has cited for his veto.
For the 39 states in the Union that have banned texting while driving, enforcement has been a thorny matter. A Houston Police Officer present at the legislative session gave testimony with regard to the burden of proof issue raised by texting while driving.
Prosecutors will have a high burden of proof that must be supported not only by field observations by law enforcement officers, but also by subpoena requests from wireless carriers.
The above article was written by Adam Williams, for the Law Office of Randolph H. Wolf and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Rand Mintzer, Attorney at Law.