Texas House OKs Ban on Texting While Driving

The Texas House on Wednesday tentatively approved a statewide ban on texting while driving, a measure that made it all the way to Gov. Rick Perry's desk in 2011 before getting vetoed.

State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, after the passage of a statewide texting-while-driving ban on March 25, 2015.
State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, after the passage of a statewide texting-while-driving ban on March 25, 2015.  Bob Daemmrich

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

The Texas House on Wednesday tentatively approved a ban on texting while driving, a measure that made it to Gov. Rick Perry's desk in 2011 before getting vetoed. 

House Bill 80 by state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, passed 102 to 40. It would make texting while driving a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of up to $99 on the first offense and $200 for additional infractions. 

If the House gives the measure final approval — which is likely — it will then head to the Senate.

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“The main thing we need to say is, it is a safety issue in this state — driving is not a privilege,” Craddick, the former House speaker, told lawmakers on Wednesday. “It’s our responsibility as legislators to put forth the tools that the [Department of Public Safety] and other police officers in this state need to make it safe on our highways and streets.”

Six amendments were tacked onto the bill, including one that clarifies that cities can still pass their own ordinances, another that lets drivers text if they are completely stopped and a third that states that simply looking at a phone screen is not prohibited.

The bill also requires the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to erect signs alerting drivers to the ban in prominent locations, and where drivers enter the state on highways.

Craddick faced pushback on the bill from several lawmakers, including state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston.

“This bill opens an opportunity for everybody in the state of Texas to be pulled over because a police officer may believe that they are texting,” Dutton said. 

Dutton held up his phone and asked Craddick if he could tell whether he was texting or not. Craddick said he could not tell.

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 “I think this is no different [than] if you were speeding and pulled over, drinking and pulled over, or weaving down the road and pulled over,” Craddick said. 

Forty cities in Texas — including Austin, El Paso and San Antonio — have bans on texting while driving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In addition, 44 states ban text messaging while driving.

Whether a statewide bill could make it into law is still unclear. Gov. Greg Abbott indicated while campaigning that he was against both statewide and local bans. He has since said it was premature for him to say whether he would veto a texting-while-driving ban. 

"Gov. Abbott will consider any bill passed by the Legislature with the goal of making Texas better," said John Wittman, an Abbott spokesman.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has filed a companion measure in the upper chamber — Senate Bill 25.