OUR TURN: Put the brakes on texting while driving

There is absolutely no doubt that texting while driving is a terrible idea, but at the moment Texas lags behind most other states on an outright ban.

On a more local level, though, the city of Meadowlakes is looking at a ban after a resident complained about a near-miss episode involving a distracted driver.

He asked city leaders to consider drafting an ordinance that would prohibit texting behind the wheel, after a fellow golfer saw a motorist busy texting while whizzing past a golf cart crossing.

Whether it’s an 18-wheeler or a moped, motorists who text while driving are a roadway menace.

Meadowlakes is right to at least consider a ban.

Statewide attempts to ban texting while driving are gaining momentum, but Gov. Rick Perry during the 2011 legislative session vetoed a bill that would have outlawed the practice, calling it government micromanagement.

Perry, who was running for president at the time, instead suggested a better form of dissuasion is education and information campaigns.

Perhaps, but there are times when government intervention might be wise.

Handsfreeinfo.com, citing a state Transportation Institute study, reports that about two-thirds of Texas teenagers surveyed say they have talked on a cell phone while driving in the past six months. Also, more than half said they had read or sent text messages while driving.

And most disturbing, according to the website, is a 2007 study that indicates cell phone use was among the primary causes of fatal car crashes among teens.

Most political observers agree that by 2014, Texas is likely to ban texting while driving, which is easier to control than phone calls.

The Legislature returns next year to possibly consider such laws, but at the moment Texas remains one of 11 states that still allows text messaging by drivers in motion.

There has been some progress, though. Cell-phone use is prohibited in active school zones; drivers under 18 are prohibited from using wireless communications devices; those with learner permits are also banned from cell-phone use in the first six months of motoring; and school bus operators can’t use cell phones if children are aboard.

Though Meadowlakes residents are grappling with the issue of whether to enact a ban, approval of such a measure would put them in good company. Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Amarillo, Galveston, El Paso, Missouri City, the Canyon and Stephenville have all passed distracted driver laws.

The research is mounting that texting is a leading factor in distracted driving — and deadly accidents.

A 2011 U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that surveyed high school students in 43 states reports, “The use of technology among youth has resulted in new risks; specifically, 1 in 3 high school students had texted or e-mailed while driving … during the past 30 days.”

U.S. Department of Transportation officials further state that 3,092 people died in distracted-driving accidents in 2010. In areas where texting is banned among drivers, fatalities from distracted driving have decreased.

Whether it’s Meadowlakes or the entire state, it’s time motorists started paying more attention to the road and less to their phones. Put the brakes on texting while driving.

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