Tom Craddick, guest columnist: One state legislator blocked statewide ban on texting while driving

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Posted: Sunday, June 2, 2013 12:01 am

Efforts to enact a statewide ban on texting while driving this session did not fail because of a governor’s veto; rather, the bill succumbed to the will of a stubborn chairman.

For Texans wondering why 40 other states have a ban but Texas allows drivers to text while driving, putting the lives of others in danger, we have state Sen. Robert Nichols to thank.

In November, I filed House Bill 63 and Sen. Judith Zaffirini filed an identical Senate bill, SB 28, proposing a statewide ban on texting while driving. I dubbed it the bipartisan bill of the session. House and Senate members, Republican and Democrat, from across the state lined up to co-author this important public safety bill. It was on its way.

We held a meeting at the beginning of session, bringing in family members of victims of texting accidents, police officers, wireless communication companies and a host of advocates for the bill to brief lawmakers and staff on the impact a ban on texting would have in keeping our roads safer. AT&T even loaned us their texting simulator to demonstrate the dangers of texting while driving. Our message was heard loud and clear.

HB 63 received an early hearing in the House Committee on Transportation. I and my co-authors — Reps. Byron Cook, Eddie Lucio III, Jose Menendez and Patricia Harless — laid out the bill to ensure it was well-received. Our bill was making good progress.

Then politics got in the way of good policy.

Like good bill authors, Sen. Zaffirini and I worked together to line up the yes votes on committee. I can assure you the support was there to vote it out. Similarly, the votes were there on the Senate floor to pass this bill. We personally let the chairman of the committee know this fact but to no avail.

It appeared Chairman Robert Nichols of the Senate Transportation Committee thought he knew better for Texas when he refused to allow even a vote on this bill that would save lives.

Adding insult to injury, Chairman Nichols championed his bill to restrict the ability of holders of commercial driver’s licenses from texting and driving and his bill to clarify texting on school property. He ignored the increasing frequency with which regular drivers use cell phones to send a text or email while driving that has made this dangerous practice one of the most common causes of crashes or near-crashes. In short, he killed a very important bill.

Lawmakers were poised to act on legislation that would have saved lives. Nichols singlehandedly denied colleagues that opportunity and denied all Texans a chance at making our roads safer.

With the session complete and no chance of a ban on texting while driving passing into law, I am more resolved than ever that next session I will be back once again to work on legislation that will give our Texas law enforcement officers this tool to keep Texas roads safe and put into place a statewide law that will deter drivers from texting while driving.

Meanwhile, I implore everyone to think of your life, your passengers, the bike rider on the shoulder, the other vehicles around you, the blind pedestrian on the corner, the child running into the street after his ball, and put your phone away. It can wait.

Former Speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick, R-Midland, authored House Bill 63 under which motorists using handheld wireless devices to “read, write or send a text-based communication” while driving would be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $100.

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