Official: Lawmakers consider ban on texting while driving

Jordan Johannsen, a junior business major, said that although she occasionally texts while driving, she knows when to set aside her phone.

“I never text on busy roads because it’s just not worth the risk,” Johannsen said. “I can always text that person when I’m at a stoplight, so that means holding off on texting for a little – that’s no big deal.”

As of late March, Washington became the 20th state to pass a ban on texting while driving. While Texas does not have such a law, the dangers associated with texting while driving are among serious topics of concern for state congressional leaders, a Texas House of Representatives staffer said.

Clayton Stewart, the chief of staff for Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, said Austin legislators have already taken the initiative to pass a city ordinance outlawing texting while driving. Stewart said many residents have already contacted Shelton’s office about such legislation.

TCU Police Chief Steve McGee said few students are involved in car accidents on campus, and very few, if any, are because of texting. McGee said campus police only patrol campus parking lots, which is why the department does not have any records regarding accidents caused by texting.

Sgt. Alvin Allcon of the TCU Police said texting while driving on the roads is a problem. Allcon said his son damaged his car because he was texting while driving.

The only cell phone regulation that is in effect in the area is the state ban outlawing the use of cell phones in school zones, Allcon said. Students should be aware of the law when they are driving by the Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center, an elementary school located on West Cantey Street, Allcon said.

“I really think that in the future you will see laws enacted that any use of a cell phone or any kind of electronic devices other than wireless voice command will be prohibited driving anywhere,” Allcon said.

When drivers text, their collision risk is 23 times greater than when they are not texting, according to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study released in July 2009. The study was conducted by installing video cameras in trucks for an 18-month period.

Sherri Box, the PR and marketing manager of VTTI, said other distractions while driving were observed in trucks as well as in previous studies with other vehicles. These included drinking, attending to a child in the back seat and grooming oneself. Out of all the distractions, texting was the most dangerous, Box said.

“We believe our observations regarding distractions in the most recent naturalistic truck studies can definitely be extrapolated to all drivers,” Box said. “We fully expect our ongoing research studies will prove this to be true. Distractions cause the driver’s eyes to be off the forward roadway regardless of the type of vehicle they may be driving.”

Paige Allen, a sophomore communication studies major and Austin native, said she thinks the Austin city ordinance is potentially confusing but added that the texting ban should be statewide.

“It does get complicated when you go home,” Allen said. “You forget that it’s illegal, and you catch yourself texting.”

Stewart said the idea of banning texting while driving in Texas is being seriously considered by lawmakers, but the creation of any potential bill would take time.

“Any time you have a piece of legislation or want to pass a new law, there are certain things you have to check,” Stewart said. “(You) go through a system of accountability to make sure that you’re not leaving any gaps in the law.”