Students confront difficulty of texting ban enforcement
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 14:02
As cellphones become as much an extension of the arm as a hand, it is natural for cellphone use to carry over into other day-to-day activities, distracting its user from more attention-worthy tasks — such as driving.
According to the Department of Transportation, last year 81,000 crashes involved a cell phone and 361 of those crashes were fatal. This year, the 83rd Texas Legislature introduced a bill aimed at banning the practice of texting while driving.
Texas is one of 11 states that do not have a statewide law prohibiting texting while driving. There are two restrictions for drivers under the age of 18 and for bus drivers: it is prohibited to use cell phones while operating a vehicle, and to use hand held phones in school zones. Twenty-five cities in Texas such as Austin, El Paso, Dallas, Galveston and San Antonio have passed local laws against texting while driving within city limits.
“There should be a law against texting because it is so distracting,” said Moises Macias, junior technology management major. “However, this is such a controversial issue and there will be a lot of trouble enforcing it.”
Rep. Tom Craddick from Midland introduced a bill last legislative session to ban texting. The bill passed both chambers, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it in June.
“Texting while driving is reckless and irresponsible,” Perry said in a public statement following the veto. “I support measures that make our roads safer for everyone, but House Bill 242 is a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”
On Jan. 29, family members who lost loved ones because of texting testified in front of the Texas Legislature to advocate for a statewide ban. Craddick reintroduced the bill backed by AT&T’s campaign, “It Can Wait,” and by other groups that want to see this law passed. The bill is titled, “The Alex Brown Memorial Act,” in honor of Alex Brown, a high school student who died while texting and driving in 2009. In Craddick’s bill, texting would be banned as well as posting on Facebook, tweeting or sending e-mails while behind the wheel.
“This bill will provide a uniform statewide approach to curb this unsafe practice and will go a long way in helping educate drivers on the dangers posed by texting while driving and save lives,” Craddick said in a prepared statement.
“I feel like it’s not fair to have a law regulating texting,” said Kacy Maddox, sophomore psychology major. “Cops can’t tell if someone is texting or doing something else with their phone. I think it will cause a lot of friction with police and drivers.”
Last year, the Texas Transportation Institute (a division of Texas A&M University) conducted a study on a closed course with an instrumented vehicle. They had students read and write texts while they were driving and studied their reaction times.
“Whether you are reading or writing a text, your response time is two times more delayed compared to not using a cell phone,” said Christine Yager, who helped conduct the study and is an associate transportation researcher in TTI’s Center for Transportation Safety. “There is no difference between reading and writing texts, because either way, your reaction time is significantly delayed.”
Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds — the equivalent of driving 55 mph down the length of an entire football field while blindfolded.
Many students agree that texting is one of the biggest distractions for college drivers.
“I see people at stops texting and when the light changes it takes them a couple of seconds to realize,” Macias said.
“Texting is a big problem,” said Deisy Ochoa, junior nutritional sciences major. “I see people texting while driving all the time and it’s distracting. It can endanger their life and other the other passengers in the car”.
Any cellphone use can be distracting. Yager said talking and texting is the equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of .8, which is legally impaired.
“Younger generations are definitely more tech savvy than the older generations,” Yager said. “However, this is a problem that affects everyone, not just college students. There is this compulsion to be connected to the world. And since we all have smart phones and everyone sleeps with it next to them, we feel this need to text while driving.”