AUSTIN -- Despite possible opposition from Gov. Rick Perry again, supporters of a statewide ban on texting while driving are mounting a renewed push behind the measure to combat what they say is one of the biggest threats on America's highways -- distracted driving.
"It's an epidemic," said a tearful Jennifer Zamora Jamison of Roanoke, whose husband, an Iraq war veteran, was killed in a head-on collision with a distracted driver in 2007.
Jamison testified in an emotional committee hearing Tuesday on behalf of legislation that would place Texas among nearly 40 states that have enacted a statewide ban against texting while driving.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, is similar to a bill vetoed by Perry in 2011. Although supporters of the latest Craddick measure appealed to Perry to support the bill, the governor's office signaled Tuesday that Perry still has reservations about the proposed statewide ban.
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In a statement reminiscent of Perry's veto message in 2011, spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said that Perry "continues to believe texting while driving is reckless and irresponsible" but believes the solution rests with "information and education, not government micromanagement."
Nashed also said that "current law already prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from texting or using a cellphone while driving." But she added that Perry hasn't taken a final position on the latest bill, saying that the governor "will thoroughly review" bills that pass both Houses of the Legislature and make it to his desk.
Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, is one of 16 House members who are co-authors of Craddick's bill. Arlington last year became the first North Texas city to ban texting while driving after a rash of accidents attributed to distracted drivers, including those involving cellphones.
At least 24 other cities, including Austin, El Paso and San Antonio, have also adopted the ban. Craddick, a former House speaker, said texting bans are also in force in at least 39 states and the District of Columbia.
"This isn't infringement," Craddick said, countering civil libertarian arguments that his bill would impose a new layer of government regulation. "This is just another tool for law enforcement to help make driving safer."
Many of those rallying behind the law are families whose loved ones were killed in car wrecks with drivers who authorities said were either texting or talking on a cellphone at the time of the crash.
One leading activist is Jennifer Smith, a former Grapevine resident who organized the Distraction Advocate Network in 2012 after her mother was killed in a collision with a man who was talking on his cellphone and ran a red light.
Smith, who now lives in Chicago, watched the House Transportation Committee hearing online and frequently exchanged emails with members. "This is finally the year that Texas is going to do something about it," she said.
Craddick has named his bill the Alex Brown Memorial Act after a Lubbock-area girl who was killed when her pickup overturned in 2009 while she was texting friends.
'It leaves you with pain'
Jamison held a picture of her husband, Javier Zamora, as she told lawmakers how he died in a collision with a car that drifted into Zamora's path while he was on a trip with his daughter to the mall.
"It leaves you with pain, it leaves you with anger, it consumes you," she said. "Except it wasn't a drunk driver ... with a bottle in their hand. It's somebody just as impaired, with a mobile device."
Witnesses told the committee that wrecks caused by driver distraction are reaching epidemic proportions. But Rep. George Lavender, R-Texarkana, while acknowledging the dangers, said some studies haven't conclusively linked a ban on texting with a downturn in car wrecks.
The Texas Department of Transportation reported that 81,000 crashes in 201, including 361 fatal wrecks, were involved in some kind of distraction, driver inattention or cellphone use.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief, 512-739-44711.