Texting while driving preemption law on Special Session agenda

By now -- everyone in Austin should be used to having their hands off their phones when they're behind the wheel. But if Governor Greg Abbott gets his way -- the city ordinance will be a thing of the past.

AUSTIN - It took six years, four legislative sessions, but Texas lawmakers finally passed a bill, and got it signed by the Governor, to ban texting while driving.

It was the work of Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland).

"If you look at statistics in the 46 other states that have passed it, what you're seeing is their number of accidents are down, their number of deaths are down, their number of property damage is down. So we just had to prove to people that it's working in other states and it'll work in this state," Craddick said the day the bill passed in the Senate. 

Starting September 1st, it will be against the law for drivers to send or read any electronic message with their handheld device while their vehicle is moving. That includes text messages, emails and direct messages on social media. Drivers can still use their phones, in their hands, to operate GPS or to play music.

But the rules aren't exactly that black and white. The new law over-rides city ordinances, but only those related to electronic messages, GPS and music apps. So city "hands-free" rules on all other phone use still apply.

For instance, Austin has a hands-free ordinance that prohibits drivers from touching their phones while their vehicles are moving for all uses, unless they are calling 911. But when the new law goes into effect, Austin drivers can touch their phones, while moving, to use GPS or their music apps. However, when it comes to phone calls, the city's ordinance is still in effect, so drivers can't hold their phones while talking. 

"We don't need a patchwork quilt of regulations that dictate driving practices in Texas," said Governor Greg Abbott (R) last month as he announced a special session. 

When lawmakers return for the Special, Abbott wants them to make the new state law the only law.

"Now that Texas does have a statewide ban on texting and driving, I am calling for legislation that fully preempts cities and counties from any regulation of mobile devices in vehicles," Abbott said. 

Abbott has asked Senator Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and Representative Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth) to write the bill.

The special session starts July 18.

 

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