Texas bill targeting cell phone use in vehicles dies

| Thursday, May 24, 2007

An effort in the Texas Legislature to improve safety on roadways has died.

Sponsored by Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, the bill would have prohibited drivers in the state from talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. Talking on a phone equipped with a “hands-free” accessory would still have been permitted.

The measure – HB201 – remained in the House Transportation Committee at the deadline for bills to advance from their originating chamber. A related effort – SB154 – met a similar fate.

Menendez’ bill would have made it a secondary offense to drive while chatting – meaning a person would have to be pulled over for another violation, such as speeding, before they could be ticketed for talking on the phone. It also would have prohibited drivers from text messaging, using a BlackBerry-style device, and using laptop computers while behind the wheel.

Violators would have faced up to $100 fines. If the offense occurred within a school crossing zone, the fine would have been as much as $200. Emergency calls would have been exempted.

Currently, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York have the only statewide laws restricting cell phone use in vehicles. In 2008, California is slated to implement its own rule. Other states also are looking into implementing their own rules.

Supporters of the effort in Texas said that studies show how cell phones distract drivers and lead to vehicle wrecks. They cite the most recent state statistics that show the number of cell phone related vehicle wrecks increased nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2001, KTVT-TV in Dallas/Fort Worth reported.

However, more studies show that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting. Opponents of cell phone restrictions also say that talking on cell phones is no more distracting than eating, drinking or changing radio stations while driving.

In fact, research by the University of North Carolina determined that cell-phone use ranked eighth in terms of distraction, The Patriot-News reported.

The effort in Texas to restrict cell phone use while behind the wheel can be brought back for consideration during the next regular session that begins in January 2009. The Legislature meets in regular session once every two years.

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