While some Tarrant County cities have banned texting while driving, especially in school zones, and state law prohibits drivers under age 18 from texting or using a cellphone while driving, legislative efforts to enact a statewide ban for adult drivers so far haven’t worked out.
Now safety experts at a summit meeting in Fort Worth this week have pointed out just how scary that practice continues to be.
It’s one of the explanations those experts offered for an alarming 9.3 percent increase in U.S. traffic fatalities during the first nine months of 2015 compared with the same period the previous year.
Exactly 26,000 people died on the nation’s roads during that period last year, compared with 23,796 killed during the first nine months of 2014.
Perhaps even more alarming, the increase is a turnaround from other recent years. Before 2015, the U.S. had reduced traffic fatalities by 50 percent since 2000.
Certainly, distractions such as texting while driving aren’t the only reasons for that increase. But it’s a major cause that must be addressed, said experts attending the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration summit.
Human error is a factor in about 94 percent of fatal crashes, agency Administrator Mark Rosekind told Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson.
And if Texas lawmakers want to try again in their 2017 session to address distracted driving, they’ll have more than texting to worry about.
Fred Maldonado Jr., vice president for external and legislative affairs for AT&T, pointed out that rapid growth in social media has added to the problems. One example is Snapchat, a relatively new messaging and video-sharing service popular among teenagers and young adults.
“Smartphone use while driving has grown beyond texting,” he said. “It’s now social media, taking selfies and chatting.”
During the 2011 legislative session, Texas lawmakers actually passed a ban on texting while driving, but Gov. Rick Perry called it “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults” and vetoed it.
That was a shortsighted move, but Perry did make a good point in his veto message.
“The keys to dissuading drivers of all ages from texting while driving are information and education,” the governor wrote.
As technology advances into new ways of communication and social networking beyond text messaging, it might be too much to expect lawmakers to craft laws that will keep up.
Drivers must act responsibly, law or no law. Smartphones and dumb drivers don’t mix.