Denton Man Who Lost Wife, Daughter in Texting While Driving Crash Doesn't Want State Law to Override Local Ordinance

Red light cameras, fracking, texting and driving. They’re all issues debated in communities across North Texas. But if Governor Greg Abbott has his way, all those decisions will be made in Austin, not at the local level.

On June 1, the City of Denton implemented a ban of using hand-held phones for any reason while driving.

The problem is Denton police don't know how to enforce it, with the state now threatening to override those rules.

Meanwhile, one Denton father who's fought for the ban, is warning not to go backwards.

"I would do anything for my family," said James Shaffer.

He would have given anything to stop it.

"To save them, help them, free them from it."

To keep a texting driver from crossing the center line on Highway 377, hitting his wife Emma's car head-on, and killing her and their 12-year-old daughter Tita.

"That breaks you down inside, because you have no control of anything but you would do anything," Shaffer said.

In the nearly year and a half since, he's thought a lot about that word -- control. Shaffer lobbied for stricter rules in Denton.

"Let's make it illegal to drive a vehicle with a wireless hand-held device in your hand," he said.

That measure passed, so Shaffer moved on to testify in Austin for a Texas-wide law.

"We're trying to protect our children. Because I lost mine," said Shaffer.

Again success, when the state finally passed a ban on texting and driving. But now the two things Shaffer fought for are in conflict.

"They're really going the wrong direction," he said.

Governor Abbott wants the state law that takes effect in September to override any local ordinances, but it only addresses texting, and doesn't include Denton's stricter ban on holding a phone while behind the wheel.

"We should be taking that, the local city ordinance in Denton, and we should be lobbying everyone in Austin to make it the state law!" Shaffer said.

So he's back to that word – control, this time local versus state.

"They should be able to enact those laws and the state should not possess the right to come in and trump that or override it," said Shaffer. "We really should respect your vision of the city and say OK, this is going to be best managed, best perceived, and best promote safety in our city and then you leave it alone."

A husband and father, hoping to keep the legacy he fought for alive.

Governor Abbott has said he wants a uniform law on this, instead of a "patchwork quilt." His Press Secretary John Wittman also released the following statement on Monday:

"Governor Abbott believes government's role is to empower and create greater opportunity for businesses and individuals to thrive, prosper, and succeed. Contrary to the Governor's belief, some cities and local governments in Texas are doing everything they can to overregulate, and in the process, stifle our economy and undermine private property rights. That's why the Governor has called for legislation in the upcoming special session to restrict and prohibit local regulations that interfere with job creation."

Contact Us