With distracted driving being one of the lead causes of crashes and highway fatalities in the country, an ever increasing number of states are making it illegal, passing laws that fine violators hundreds of dollars for the dangerous activity. Yet, while Texas is one of the few places where there isn’t a statewide ban, local legislatures are setting an example by establishing their own – many of which are in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
One of the recent Dallas-area cities that’s taking matters into its own hands is Denton. As of Feb. 16, anyone who’s caught sending a text message, making a call, or browsing the Internet while behind the wheel will have to pay a $200 fine.
Denton Police Department Officer Ryan Grelle noted that distracted driving is rampant in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
“On a regular basis, you see it,” Grelle told local news network CBS DFW. “I mean, you see the people not paying attention, almost hitting other vehicles, almost hitting bicyclists, pedestrians.
He added that all it takes is a split second of inattention for motorists to be involved in an accident. According to recent studies, a driver takes their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds when sending a text message.
Though most associate distracted driving with mobile device use, it includes other behaviors as well, like eating, drinking, fiddling with the radio dial, or grooming. In most states and cities, though – including Denton – legislation has been confined to handheld technology
Dallas’ neighbor to the north is only the latest city that’s cracking down on distracted drivers. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, other cities where similar ordinances have been passed include: Alamo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, San Antonio, Magnolia, Rowlett, Tomball, Grand Prairie, and Galveston, just to name a few. Fines range between $200 and $500. Since 2009, more than 40 cities have adopted distracted driving legislation, Austin being the first.
John Barton, TxDOT deputy executive director, noted that far too many Texas families have suffered losses because of distracted driving.
“Nearly 1 in 5 traffic crashes in Texas is caused by a distracted driver,” said Barton. “Last year, 468 people were killed because someone took their attention off the road. How important is a fleeting distraction when it could end in the death of someone, perhaps even one of your loved ones?”
In 2014, more than 100,800 crashes in Texas were attributed to multitasking behind the wheel. That’s a 6 percent uptick from 2013, according to TxDOT data.
Majority of Texans support statewide ban
Most Texans aren’t opposed to a statewide ban on texting and driving. In fact, 60 percent of drivers say that it’s time for one, according to a survey done by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. On at least two occasions over the past few years, the Texas Legislature has made a motion to implement one, but each attempt has failed.
Texans’ opinions are shared by much of the nation. Last year, 75 percent of respondents in a countrywide poll said that there ought to be stiffer penalties for texting while driving, according to the National Safety Council.
“For years, there has been widespread opposition to texting behind the wheel,” said Deborah Hersman, NSC president and CEO. “The polls show the public is behind stronger penalties because most people recognize that it will take more than awareness campaigns to stop this dangerous behavior.”
In the meantime, TxDOT says that drivers can help make distracted driving history by making it a point to not do anything behind the wheel that detracts from what their primary focus should be – the road and getting to their destination safe and sound.