Texting while driving will soon be illegal in Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he has signed HB 62, approving the state’s first ban on handheld communications by motorists. It brings an end to more than a decade of efforts by some lawmakers, notably State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to reduce potentially deadly driver distractions on the road.
Previous attempts at texting bans either failed to get out of the legislature or fell to the governor’s veto pen.
Texas will join at least 47 other states that have similar laws when the ban takes effect Sept. 1. After then drivers may not use a phone to “read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped.”
Texting would be punishable by a fine of up to $99 for first-time offenders and $200 for repeat offenses. The ban covers texting only, not other Internet use such as map applications.
To gain support in the Senate where some questioned the bill’s specifics, Zaffirini changed the proposal to carve out exemptions making it legal to use a phone to control a car’s stereo system and to access a mapping program.
Texas was one of four states without a general texting ban behind the wheel. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 455 people were killed and more than 3,000 seriously injured in the state last year in vehicle crashes related to distracted driving.
This is the fourth session in a row house bill author State Rep. Craddick has tried to pass such a ban. Former Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a similar proposal in 2011, calling it a “governmental effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”
Abbott hesitated for several days before signing the bill, prompting speculation that he was undecided on the ban.
The governor announced that he had signed the bill at a press conference Tuesday, when he also announced a series of priorities for a special legislative session to start July 18. Among those priorities is further work on the ban, which Abbott said “did not fully achieve my goals.”
“I was not satisfied with the law as it was written,” Abbott said Tuesday. “Now that Texas does have a statewide ban on texting and driving, I am calling for legislation that fully pre-empts cities and counties from any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles. We don’t need a patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in Texas.”