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In Texas, a ban on texting while driving is poised to pass into law

Earlier this week, the Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly - 113-32 - to outlaw texting while driving. Specifically, the proposed bill prohibits drivers from using "a portable wireless communication device to read, write, or send an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle."

It is no secret why the majority of legislators support the measure. Distracted driving contributes to more than 100,000 motor vehicle accidents in the state each year, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. The crashes translate into more than 3,000 incapacitating injuries and nearly 500 deaths annually. And while personal injury claims can provide some measure of relief to victims and their families, the public would benefit greatly if the number of auto accidents were reduced.

The question, then, is why any legislators opposed the bill.

Why libertarians are opposed

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports that a small group of libertarian-leaning republicans attempted to kill the bill. The politicians suggested that the bill infringes on personal liberty, and grants too much authority to state police. "One of the things that government does to take your freedoms is to scare you," one representative said. "That's what this bill does."

Others seem to agree. Every year since 2011, a bill banning texting-and-driving has passed through the Texas house. But the state Senate has quashed most of the measures, deeming them too restrictive. (The one bill that passed a senate vote was vetoed by then-governor Rick Perry.)

But this year appears to be different. A Senate version of the measure has already passed a preliminary round of voting, and appears ready for a floor vote within the next week. A governor veto seems unlikely, given the broad base of bipartisan support the provision has gained.

A step toward safer roads

Penalties for violating the ban would be modest. The bill seeks to impose fees of no more than $99 on offenders. And the measure includes exceptions for drivers who are reporting emergencies or simply checking directions.

Nevertheless, it seems a strong first step toward curtailing one of the leading causes of auto accidents in the state. Moreover, the bill's provisions should be fairly easy to heed. A number of apps, such as Cellcontrol, have been developed to limit phone use automatically when one is in the driver's seat.

Would that the process of passing a law were so automated.

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