Texas Lawmakers Want a Ban on Texting While Driving. But Do the Bans Even Work?

textwhiledriving.jpeg
Via.
In Austin yesterday, state lawmakers were joined by Texans whose family members were killed in texting-related car accidents for an emotional press conference in support of a texting-while-driving ban proposed by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.

A nearly identical proposal easily passed last session, only to be vetoed by Governor Rick Perry, who called it a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults." But as academic studies and anyone who's nearly died in a fiery car wreck because they were trying to find the proper emoticon can attest, the practice is ridiculously dangerous. So legislators are giving the ban another shot.

This morning on Grits For Breakfast, the popular blog about Texas jurisprudence, Scott Henson called bullshit, arguing that not only are texting bans ineffective, they're dangerous.

As evidence, Henson points to a 2010 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which found that, in three of the four states it studied, crashes actually increased after legislatures passed texting bans. The authors of the study suggested that this was likely due in part to drivers using their phones surreptitiously to avoid detection, taking their eyes further from the road.

That said, Henson's not surprised that lawmakers are eager to raise themselves as the champion of a high-profile and politically noncontroversial issue.

"The go-to move for legislators whenever something occurs they don't like is to pass new criminal laws or seek to increase punishments, and if the only tool you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail," he writes. "Grits does find it disappointing, though, that not one media outlet in the whole state offered up the caveat that such a law may do more harm than good."

Here's the thing, though: The IIHS study is pretty thin. It looks at only four states and draws its conclusions from fluctuations in the number of insurance claims filed. It doesn't separate texting-related accidents from other car crashes. And common sense suggests that a ban, if it's enforced and accompanied by a broader public awareness campaign, would make some number of drivers think twice. That's what's fueled the decline in drunk driving over the past couple of decades.

The bottom line seems to be that we don't know what the effects of a texting ban might be. They're too new, and there's not yet much good data on the subject. Either way, by the time we do have good data, texting will be obsolete and we'll all sending our late-night booty calls and grocery lists by Verizon 9G Telepathy, rendering this whole conversation pointless.


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20 comments
joeknowslaw
joeknowslaw

I agree the law needs to be made. I feel that if there is a punishment behind the act people would think twice before doing it. Or if they get fined a time or two, they will learn their lesson and reduce the amount, or stop entirely. http://www.joeknowslaw.com/

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Let's just ban collisions. That should take care of it.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

The key word here is "enforcement".  People get away with riding bikes on sidewalks, smoking on DART platforms, blaring music from cars, and not picking up their dogs' doodles.  These are all "quality of life" issues that have ordinances on the books.  By all means, outlaw texting while driving, but enforce the law, for goodness sake.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Here's an idea, how about we start enforcing the reckless driving laws we already have on the books?

If you are driving recklessly, you get cited, whether you are putting on makeup or fiddling with the radio or texting. If you are texting but it isn't effecting your driving, who gives a shit?

Lege still doesn't have enough to do. Time to only let them meet every third year, obviously.

observist
observist topcommenter

Conceptually it seems like a good idea - it's stupid and dangerous to text while driving - but practically it seems like a mess.  Is "texting" being used as a blanket term for "cell phone using"?   If a cop pulls you over for messing with your phone, do you get off if you're just reading a comment thread but not posting?   Do you get a ticket for looking at a map on your phone but not on your in-dash GPS?  What about an iPod?  Not a phone, can't text, therefore not dangerous?   I can't imagine any electronic device is any more dangerous than putting on makeup while driving - why no law specifically about that?  I think it will be yet another thing cops can use to selectively harass or punish any driver they want.

MattL11
MattL11

I'd think twice before texting in the car if I knew I could be heavily fined for it. 

[Not that I do it anyway...]

keepcensoringDO
keepcensoringDO

When was the last time anyone got a ticket for not yielding to pedestrians in a crosswalk(why is there even a cross walk? No one stops)?

Just more pointless legislation by overpaid bureaucrats searching for a reason to exist. 

russp
russp

39 states now ban texting while driving so there should be some pretty good numbers out there as to whether it works or not. The insurance study with only 4 states doesn't mean much.

drtz
drtz

Are we not allowed to penalize people who knowingly and intentionally do things to endanger the lives of others around them, just because some will do it anyway?  That means we should throw out virtually every traffic law.

Driving drunk.
Wreckless driving
Speeding
Ignoring warning signs
Failure to yield right of way.
Running a red light
etc...

Just because people continue to drive drunk doesn't mean we should stop penalizing them for it.  Same goes for texting.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz well, how many police do you want out there?  Maybe we should have cameras with id equipment and mail fines to everyone?  We've got to find some economic limit to gov't, you need to consider that.  It's easy to want every ill addressed by your own pet concierge, paid for by gov't; but such childish fantasies wither in light of the complexities of reality.  None of those ills you speak of sound like emergencies.  In fact, those are all matters where social enforcement will turn the tide.  That's the best and most democratic solution; the laws and ordinances are only meant to bolster the people.  Citizenship isn't free; and you can't simply expect the system to do all the work. 

todd
todd

@everlastingphelps Exactly.  Yesterday I drove up 75 between NW Hwy and 380 in McKinney.  Exceeding the posted speed limit by no less than 15 MPH, I saw zero law enforcement officers.  That's not an isolated incident, I drive that road often and rarely notice any kind of traffic enforcement.  Without additional funds for enforcement, this law would be little more than a political "look at why I did!" 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@observist there just needs to be a blanket distracted driving law, you have a phone, book, ipod, makeup, big mac, anything but the steering wheel or the shifter in your hand, its a ticket.  Its been proven that texting while driving is far more dangerous than driving drunk, Ive yet to see a texter punished for hitting anyone.  I got rearended on 30 by a driver who was texting, he admitted it, totaled my car, but didnt shit happen to him

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@keepcensoringDO it happens everyday in downtown, if you are not in the crosswalk as soon as the light turns green, dont even try to cross, some rag head cabby or some chick texting will likely take you out, or at least honk at you for being in their way

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@drtz 

Wreckless driving > reckless driving

billzeblinsky
billzeblinsky

@scottindallas @Myrna.Minkoff-Katz So we should just be hopeful that people will simply "do the right thing" because it becomes socially unacceptable? Talk about your fantasies. We make laws based on what we value, not whether we think they'll work perfectly. In this case, we value safety. There is proof to support the idea that some people will stop texting while driving if they know of a law banning it as well as appropriate penalties for its violation. If you don't think it will work, fine, let's find out. What's the worst that could happen -- another unenforced law on the books? The best? Lives are saved. Seems like an easy decision.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@todd @everlastingphelps what's wrong with that?  Shut up the activists with a bee in their bonnet; and leave these matters up to the people to resolve

keepcensoringDO
keepcensoringDO

@ScottsMerkin @keepcensoringDO I like how on Greenville right by the pawn shop at Sears St they put: A Crosswalk, signs pointing out the crosswalk and obnoxious flashing lights on the crosswalk.. 

And still not a single car will stop and let anyone cross. 

So I really wish someone could explain what the fucking point is.

drtz
drtz

@TheCredibleHulk 
If you drive much in Dallas you know wreckless driving is also strongly discouraged.  :)

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