Editorial: Texas needs to hand its drivers a new cellphone use law

No text and drive a year later

September 1 marks the first year anniversary of of no texting and driving in Texas. Still at it?
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September 1 marks the first year anniversary of of no texting and driving in Texas. Still at it?

We’ve all seen it: The light turns green but the guy ahead of us doesn’t move — until he lifts his head from looking at his cellphone.

Or the car ahead of you on the four-lane highway wanders in and out of its lane. You seize the opportunity to zip past and see the driver on her cellphone.

Like the rest of America, we Texans love our cars and our cellphones.

Unfortunately, the combination threatens to kill us.

Texas enacted a ban on texting and driving on Sept. 1, 2017, to try and reduce the risk. But we believe the law is ineffectual and nearly unenforceable.

Texas should follow the lead of 16 other states and allow only hands-free use of cellphones by drivers.

Arlington had a law that only allowed hands-free cellphone use by drivers that was in effect from 2012 to 2017. Police officers there wrote about 400 citations to violators during that time. But in the year since the looser law took effect, they have written only three citations.

Lt. Christopher Cook said the drop in citations is because it’s next to impossible to prove that someone police see using a cellphone is texting rather than using other cellphone functions that are allowable under the law.

Although it is clear hands-free laws do get drivers to let go of their cellphones, we admit that research offers a mixed bag on whether hands-free laws reduce accidents.

A 2014 analysis by the Highway Loss Data Institute showed that states that enacted hands-free laws did not see a decrease in crashes reported to insurance companies. But research by Dr. Alva O. Ferdinand at the Texas A&M School of Public Health showed states with bans on texting and driving saw fewer people in the hospital and fewer people killed in accidents due to distracted driving.

Many variables are involved in accidents, including whether drivers are honest about whether they were on their phones. That makes the effects of hands-free laws difficult to measure.

But it simply makes sense that you are more likely to be a safe driver when you can put both hands on the wheel.

We are generally loathe to endorse government intrusion into how we live our lives. But, in this case, our lives may depend on it.

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