Texas moved closer to passing a statewide ban on texting while driving on Friday, as the state Senate approved a measure that has been defeated several times over the last decade.
Forty-six states have laws banning texting while driving that typically also ban sending or reading email, using apps or engaging in other use of the internet. Dozens of Texas cities also prohibit texting while driving.
Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have passed versions of a ban that has gained momentum since a March church bus crash that killed 13 people. Federal investigators have said the driver of the pickup truck that hit the bus said he was checking for a text when the crash happened, and had been taking prescription drugs. Video taken before the accident showed the truck weaving on the road and crossing the center line.
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The measure approved Friday would create a statewide ban that pre-empts local ordinances regarding texting only. It would prohibit the use of hand-held phones to "read write or send an electronic message" while driving, assessing a fine of up to $99 for first-time offenders and $200 for repeat offenses.
Advocates say the ban would be a life-saving measure and would deter people from using their phones in a way that can have deadly results.
"If this saves the life of one teenager who decides `I'll wait' ... then we've accomplished what we set out to accomplish," said Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican.
Some lawmakers worry the ban would be difficult and too confusing to enforce and would give police new powers to pull over people who might be doing something legal if they mistake the presence of a phone or mobile device for texting. Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, noted that other potentially dangerous distractions would not be banned.
"We have a real problem with people being pulled over for things that are perfectly legal under this law," Taylor said. "I could read the newspaper (while driving) and under this law it's perfectly legal."
Bill sponsor Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has been pushing for texting while driving ban for 10 years. Texas lawmakers approved a ban in 2011 but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Rick Perry, who called it a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults."