The texting-while-driving ban is not quite in the garage yet.
A spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, who has had House Bill 62 on his desk for several days, gave an equivocal statement Friday about the governor’s intentions for the legislation.
“The governor believes texting while driving has become deadly dangerous and that something must be done about it,” spokesman John Wittman said via email. “One thing Gov. Abbott wanted in a texting-while-driving ban was a preemption of the patchwork quilt of local regulations across the state, and he’s looking forward to digging into the details of HB 62.”
Abbott has until June 18 to either sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. The governor normally has just 10 days to act on a bill. But the longer signing period applies to all bills that reached his desk after May 18, and that includes the texting ban. The House made the final vote on HB 62 on Sunday, but it was not officially sent to Abbott until Thursday.
HB 62, carried by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is the culmination of five sessions of effort by one or both of the sponsors. A previous version made it all the way to former Gov. Rick Perry’s desk in 2011, but he rejected it because, he said in a written veto message, it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.”
The bill approved this time concentrates on texting and emailing, not using a hand-held phone for phone calls or in other ways. If Abbott signs it, the bill would prohibit statewide the reading, writing or sending of “electronic messages” via a hand-held phone in a moving car. However, that would not cover using the phone’s global positioning system or music apps, and drivers would have a built-in defense against prosecution if the phone was being used to report a crime or an emergency.
The bill also preempts local ordinances, but only in the case of electronic messages. In those situations, a person cited for sending or reading a text or email would face only the state fine — $25 to $99 for a first offense, up to $200 for subsequent transgressions — and not have to pay a second, local fine.
But Abbott’s concern, based on the Wittman statement, seems to be that local prohibitions against other hand-held uses — most especially talking on the phone while driving — would remain in place for cities that have such an ordinance.
Craddick’s office, which had no comment on the governor’s concerns Friday, said that 44 Texas cities (including Austin) prohibit all use of a hand-held phone in a moving car. Another 60 or so have narrower ordinances in Texas concentrating on texting.
Advocates for HB 62 have said that 46 states and the District of Columbia have laws in places prohibiting texting while driving.