Distracted driving on the rise, so Texas fights back

Texas has seen a rise in car accidents that came about as a result of distracted driving. In response, government officials have increased their awareness campaign and the legislature is considering new rules to address the problem.

It is becoming a significant problem indeed. The number of car crashes caused by distracted drivers rose 4 percent from 2012 to 2013, to almost 95,000 crashes. These caused 459 deaths.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month nationwide. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is sponsoring advertising campaigns on TV, radio, and signs on billboards and gas pumps throughout Texas to raise awareness of the problem.

John Barton, a deputy executive director for TxDOT, described the statistics as "sobering" in a statement, as quoted by the Amarillo Globe-News.

Legislative action

Some cities, including Austin, San Antonio, and 21 others, have local ordinances that prohibit texting while driving. In addition, it is against state law for drivers under 18 to use cell phones while driving, and school bus drivers may not do so while there are children on the bus. Another law prohibits texting while driving in a school zone.

However, there is currently no statewide law. The legislature passed such a prohibition in 2011, but it was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry. According to the Austin Statesman, Governor Perry said that although texting while driving is "reckless and irresponsible," such a law was government micromanaging adult behavior. The law's sponsor, Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has introduced the bill again this session. After hearings on the issue, Governor Perry's office issued a statement that he still opposed such a law.

Nationwide, 12 states prohibit anyone from using a hand-held cellphone while driving. In addition, 37 states ban all cellphone use by novice drivers, and 43 states ban text messaging while driving.

Dangers of distracted driving

According to the National Safety Council, some 26 percent of crashes nationwide are the result of cellphone use, including hands-free devices. Technology does not necessarily have the answer: new research shows that using voice-to-text programs can be more distracting than typing with a keyboard. Engaging in tasks like reaching for or using a phone can triple your risk of getting into a crash.

Distracted driving remains a problem. Despite the risks, up to 9 percent of drivers at any given time are talking on cell phones, according to the National Safety Council. If you have been injured because someone else was using a cell phone while driving, you should contact a knowledgeable lawyer right away to ensure that your rights are protected.