Beginning September 1, Texas will become the 47th state to institute a statewide texting while driving ban. Problem is, the new state regulations are less stringent than ordinances that already exist in over 40 forward thinking Texas cities and towns.
(If you are thinking that Texas has come to the “don’t-text-and-drive” dance pretty late, you’re right. However, in defense of my home state, it should be known that there were prohibitions in place previous to the new recently passed law. For instance, unlike in Arizona and Montana where no one is restricted from texting and driving, school bus drivers with passengers under the age of 17 can be cited for texting behind the wheel. It is also unlawful to text in school zones. I suppose the fact that it is still okay to text at highway speeds doesn’t do much to paint us in a very favorable light…)
Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for legislation that would make the new Texas law the standard across the state. Wanting to eliminate the “patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in taxes,” he is asking lawmakers to create a measure that would supersede local ordinances stricter than the new state law. The new state law currently only preempts city ordinances pertaining to texting and driving but would leave in place the 100% hands-free standards set by local governments of 40+ Texas communities.
So What’s the Answer?
As one would imagine, opinions on how to handle this matter vary in the Texas House and Senate. Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland who authored the new state law is in opposition to a broad preemption as he has no desire to weaken existing city laws believing that the issue should be left to local governments. Alternately, the law’s Senate sponsor Judith Zaffirini intends to follow proposal to create a statewide hands-free law. This measure would accomplish two goals, the strengthening of restrictions and the establishment of uniform statewide legislation. She filed a similar measure in the past, Senate Bill 67, but it was never brought up for consideration.
During the process that created the new texting and driving law, Republican Rep. Matt Rinaldi of Irving proposed an amendment with the broad preemptive power that Abbott favors. While the amendment failed, Rinaldi is considering making a similar proposal during the upcoming special legislative session. He believes that such a preemption will ease enforcement and eliminate confusion on the part of Texas drivers. He also stated that the stricter local laws enforced by some cities do not necessarily result in greater public safety.
Looking toward the special session, Craddick said it would be difficult to predict the outcome of any preemption proposals stating that many legislators seemed firm in their belief that such fine points were city issues during debate in the regular session.