The sun was shining and the roads were cleared in Lubbock, on Monday, Nov. 10, 2009. The only thing out of place was a white pick-up truck rolled over on the side of the road. This was the car of Alex Marie Brown who was 17 years old and a senior in high school when she lost her life because she was texting and driving. Most people do not remember stories like these, but the families that continue to lose loved ones.
The Texas Legislature has again proposed a bill to have a statewide ban on the use of mobile devices while operating a vehicle. The H.B. No. 80 bill states “relating to use of a portable wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle; creating a criminal offense modifying existing criminal penalties.” (Craddick, H.B. No. 80)
This bill is called the Alex Brown Memorial Act due to the efforts made by her family, friends, and city of Lubbock to bring awareness to the life-ending threat the use of mobile devices causes for anyone driving. The family started the Remember Alex Brown Foundation, which describes the personal story of Alex, what her family went through, and the actions being taken by thousands of people to not text and drive at rabfoundation.org.
Texas is among five other states that has not yet passed a statewide texting and driving ban, however, there are cities and counties in the state that have placed bans. A similar bill had been pushed in the past but was vetoed by Texas’ former governor Rick Perry because he felt it as “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.” Perry said. Currently, the only scenario where the use of mobile devices is prohibited in the whole state is in a school zone during school zone hours.
Due to the increasing number of accidents, and widespread advances and use of mobile devices, driving safety groups and organizations have started collecting research in order to educate the public. In 2011, at least 23 percent of auto collisions involved cell phones, according to the Texting and Driving Safety website. This amounts to 1.3 million crashes. 13 percent of drivers involved in wrecks admitted to texting or talking on their phones at the time of the collisions. 34 percent of drives ages 16 to 17 admit to texting, those are fresh drivers on the road that have no experience.
“He was going 60 miles per hour when he rear-ended the driver behind me, which caused them to hit my car,” said Paige Murdock, current student at Tyler Junior College who just finished the repairs on her car due to the collision. “We were in stop-and-go traffic, and he did not even realize it. The only thing I thought of was what if it was at an intersection and he hit someone dead on. When he stepped out of the car his phone was still in his hand, as well.”
When asked, 9 out of 10 TJC students polled, openly admitted to texting and driving. It is not only texting though, when asked more in depth what they do on the phone, 6 admitted to texting, while changing music, looking at Facebook and or taking snap chat photos while the car is in motion.
“Someone’s attention is like a glass, you can only hold so much before it overflows,” said Dash Connell, employee at TJC, as he spoke about a research experience he participated in at UT Tyler.
Connell explained subjects were asked to perform several tasks that would test their attention spans. It was a pool of about 60 people Connell said, which they would have different goals they would have to do while balancing on a machine. The more tasks the subject was performing the worse their balance was.
April is national distracted driving awareness month. The Texas Department of Transportation has launched a campaign, “Talk. Text. Crash”. To share the message that people die and or have fatal injuries due to texting and driving. In 2013, 94,943 traffic crashes in Texas occurred due to cell phone distractions, 18,576 resulted in injuries, and 459 in deaths, according to TxDot.
Once the bill becomes a law, which it has already been passed by the House, police will be able to give tickets for the use of mobile devices while driving. The ticket will be a “misdemeanor punishable by a fine of at least $25 and not more than $99,” unless convicted more than once. If a driver uses a device it must be hands-free, “that allows use of the wireless communication device without use of either of the operator’s hands.” (Craddick, H.B. No. 80)
Senate and the governor of Texas must approve the bill now, and once passed it will go into effect Sept. 1, 2015.