AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving accidents urged Texas lawmakers during an emotional Tuesday hearing to ban texting behind the wheel.
Krista Tankersley showed the House Transportation Committee a picture of her 48-year-old brother, Jeff Tankersley — a lawyer, Sunday school teacher and aspiring triathlete from Amarillo who was run down on his bicycle. The driver, she said, admitted looking away from the road while texting.
Her brother's body was so mangled "none of us were able to see him, hold his hand or kiss his cheek," Krista Tankersley said.
Republican Rep. Tom Craddick of Midland, the longest serving member of the House, likened a texting-while-driving measure to the adoption of seat belt laws, and recited the well-known evidence of the risks. A 2009 federal study showed texting takes a driver's eyes off the wheel for an average 4.6 seconds, enough time to travel the length of a football field at 55 miles an hour.
"It's kind of the bipartisan bill of the session," said Craddick, flanked by the bill's co-sponsors, including two Democrats. "Texting while driving is not only dangerous and potentially deadly, it is completely preventable."
Much of the testimony seemed familiar to committee members. In 2011, Republican Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a similar proposal, calling it a government "overreach." Texas already has banned any use of mobile devices by drivers under age 18.
Since the governor's veto, the number of states that ban all texting while driving has grown to 39. Local ordinances ban the practice in cities including Austin, El Paso and San Antonio.
"People say, 'Why would you do this again?' Craddick said of reintroducing the measure. "It's because I really believe in it. I think it will save lives."
A Houston police officer, a spokesman for blind pedestrians and a representative of the major insurance companies endorsed the bill Tuesday. Jennifer Zamora Jamison, whose husband was talking on the phone while driving when his car was hit by a driver who was texting, told the committee: "It's an epidemic. It's arrogance. It's ignorance. It's negligence."
A Republican member of the committee, Debbie Riddle, promised to inform the governor.
"Your time here is not being spent in vain," Riddle told Zamora Jamison. "Your voice is being heard."
Asked for Perry's position on the current bill, spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said: "The key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is information and education, not government micromanagement."