Texas bills cover driver safety, driver privacy concerns

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Texas is one of four states that hold session every other year. Lone Star state lawmakers are now back at work for the first time in two years, and among the more than 1,800 bills introduced so far are efforts that cover driver safety, driver privacy, and helping others in distress.

Multiple efforts at the capitol would add an instruction for prospective motorists who are taking driver’s education classes.

Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, are among the legislators to call for adding a requirement for instruction on how to handle being stopped by law enforcement.

Illinois has adopted a similar rule that is expected to be in place this fall. In addition, state lawmakers in Arizona, Kentucky, Nebraska and Rhode Island are among those to introduce bills on the topic for consideration in the coming months.

The intent of the rule is to educate new drivers how to calmly approach a situation and to not panic, and also to help them avoid doing anything that may seem like a red flag to law enforcement.

The Texas bills would add a section to driver’s education courses for teachers to emphasize “appropriate interactions with law enforcement.” Whitmire’s bill specifies that ninth graders take a class that includes instruction on how to handle traffic stops.

In the wake of high-profile interactions between the public and police around the country, advocates say the pursuit at statehouses would be another tool to advise new drivers about what do during a traffic stop.

Critics question whether such instruction would be effective.

The bills – SB233, SB273 and HB602 – await assignment to committee.

A separate issue up for consideration would put in place rules on the use of technology used to track drivers’ movements through automated license plate readers, or ALPRs.

High-tech cameras that scan vehicles as they pass to capture the date, time and location are used in some capacity by about 600 local and state police departments and other state and federal agencies, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Private business, such as repossession companies and vehicle insurance companies, also use the technology that can capture about 1,800 images per minute.

To date, at least dozen states have enacted rules relating to the use of ALPRs.

Texas state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, introduced a bill to limit use of the technology for investigating a criminal offense or investigating a report of a missing person.

Critics say use of the scanners amounts to warrantless searches. Supporters say the scanners are not intended to infringe on peoples’ privacy.

Data captured from plates that are not involved in investigations would be required to be purged within one week.

Hall’s bill, SB91, is in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Another bill covers concerns about motorcyclists who ride between lanes of freeway traffic to bypass congestion.

Sponsored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, the bill would permit so-called lane splitting by motorcycles when traffic is slowed to 20 mph or less on controlled access highways. Motorcyclists could not be driven more than 5 mph in excess of the speed of traffic.

California is the lone state to allow lane splitting. A 2016 law defines lane splitting and sets educational guidelines for the practice.

Supporters say that lane splitting saves motorcyclists time and fuel. They also say that giving motorcyclists the freedom to lane split, or ride the line, would reduce the likelihood of being rear ended in stop-and-go traffic.

Critics say authorizing motorcyclists to split lanes would lead to more deaths on state roadways. They cite concerns about unknowingly cutting off motorcyclists that are trying to perform the maneuver.

SB288 awaits assignment to committee.

One more issue getting a lot of attention covers truck drivers and other Good Samaritans who come across distressed animals, children, or other “vulnerable” citizens locked in parked vehicles. Multiple lawmakers have introduced bills to protect people from legal repercussions for stepping in to provide aid.

Vehicles parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures of 131-172 degrees when outside temperatures range from 80 to 100 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Outside temperatures in the 60s can cause internal temps to rise above 110 degrees.

Texas law already makes it illegal to leave a child under age 7 unattended in a vehicle for more than five minutes.

Two House bills, HB401 and HB478, would add animals to the rule. People who step in to rescue an animal or person would also be given immunity from civil or criminal penalties.

HB401 and a Senate bill, SB69, would impose stiff penalties for leaving pets in vehicles. Specifically, fines would be set at as much as $4,000 and up to one year in jail.

State law now authorizes fines up to $500.

SB69 is in the Senate State Affairs Committee. The House bills await assignment to committee.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.

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