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Cars and Phones, Part 2

For most drivers in Texas, it is legal to both talk on a cell phone and text while driving — except in school zones and certain cities. There are some who say one or both of those should be outlawed. In the second of our series on distracted driving, Melissa Galvez looks at how such a law could be enforced.



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“On September 3rd 2008, my mom was leaving her neighborhood, her light turned green, she proceeded through the intersection. At that same time, a 20 year old driver ran a red light, and T-boned her card at about 45 to 50 miles per hour. The first thing the driver admitted when he got out of his car, is he was on this cell phone and he never saw the light.”

After her mother’s accident, Jennifer Smith founded Focus Driven, an organization that supports victims and advocates for cell-free driving. As a former real estate agent from the Dallas area, she knows about the cell phone obsession.

“I had always been on my phone with my head set and thought I was safe, and I realized I wasn’t. I saw all the science and the research and all the thousands of people that have been killed over the last decade and was really shocked about it.”

Smith says that it’s going to take a cultural shift to get drivers off the phone — parents warning kids, kids warning their friends. But she also feels that we need laws.

“Even the most well-intentioned person is going to have a hard time putting the phone down. There’s a section of people that are going to say, if it was that bad, then it would be illegal, so I’m going to keep doing it.”

“500 Walker, I need a wrecker at 500 Walker.”

“We are sitting in the beautiful Galleria area at the corner of Westheimer and the West Loop South.”

Officer Jim Tippy reconstructs fatal car accidents for the Houston Police Department, but today he’s just out on patrol. He says that for the past 5 years or so, police have been asking about cell phone use after accidents, but it isn’t easy to get that evidence.

“Typically people are not going to volunteer right away that they were on a cell phone. Even though it’s not against the law, they’re hesitant to do that.”

That’s because cell phone use can help determine fault in an accident, and sometimes increase the charges drivers face. Officer Tippy thinks a texting ban would be a good idea, but there would be obstacles.

“I think it would be another law that we would have on the books that realistically we would have a very difficult time enforcing. Because you’re driving down the road, and unless I actively see you doing something down here on your phone, I’m not going to be able to make that case in court.”

Officer Tippy remembers when many Texans opposed seat belt laws. Now, he says, it’s second nature to click it or ticket. But he thinks people will have a much harder time giving up their cell phones.

“I think the biggest problem is that people realize that a seat belt is going to save your life, your cell phone…it’s your security blanket, it’s part of your every day life.”

“She’s texting on her phone.”
“How’d you see that?”
“She had her phone up. She’s got a Blackberry Pearl, with a pink cover.”
“So if you could see that, why do you think you wouldn’t be able to catch her?”
“Oh I could catch her! But that’s 1 out of how many?”

“I will be the first to admit, I am addicted to my phone.”

Shandra Conner tried to go three days without talking on her phone in the car; she made it one. On day two, a friend called with a business plan, and Conner says she didn’t want to be rude. But if it were illegal?

“I’m the type of person, I look at the big picture. So the big picture that I would see, would be me getting a ticket, and me having to pay a fine. And that’s something I don’t want to do. So, that would definitely stop me from talking on the phone.”

Of course, people say the same thing about speed limits. And whether a law will be passed in Texas, or in Houston, is still an open question.

From the KUHF Newslab, I’m Melissa Galvez.

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