A cure worse than the dis­ease

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS | OPINION - Harold Dut­ton Harold Dut­ton, a Demo­crat, has rep­re­sented Hous­ton for 17 terms in the Texas House.

Some ideas in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture need wings, and oth­ers need land­ing gear. The lat­ter should be the fate of the “tex­ting while driv­ing bill.” A ban on tex­ting while driv­ing is be­ing touted as a nec­es­sary re­sponse to the in­creas­ing num­ber of deaths on Texas road­ways. This is a cure that would be worse than the dis­ease.

Tex­ting while driv­ing has in­creased as cell­phones have be­come fun­da­men­tal to our ev­ery­day lives. I would agree that some of the deaths and in­juries tied to tex­ting while driv­ing should have, and pos­si­bly could have, been pre­vented.

But does that mean we need a statute to ban tex­ting while driv­ing?

I don’t think we do, any­more than we need greater gun reg­u­la­tion be­cause of the in­creas­ing num­ber of deaths and in­juries caused by guns. Cell­phone us­age should be viewed in the same way.

If that’s not enough, con­sider this: How can a po­lice of­fi­cer de­ter­mine what an in­di­vid­ual is do­ing with his cell­phone in his car? Are driv­ers just hold­ing it? Is a call be­ing made? And even worse, will the cell­phone have to be con­fis­cated as evi- dence by law en­force­ment?

There is also the prob­lem of ex­pand­ing prob­a­ble cause af­ter en­act­ing a tex­ting ban. Pass­ing such a bill means that law en­force­ment would have an­other tool in its arse­nal to rou­tinely stop in­di­vid­u­als — es­pe­cially those driv­ing while black. Peo­ple don’t like to face this is­sue, but far too often a pre­text is used by law en­force­ment of­fi­cers for stop­ping black folks while driv­ing.

And it is cer­tain to in­crease af­ter a tex­ting-while-driv­ing ban. Last ses­sion, my sup­port for the bill was con­di­tioned on pre­vent­ing law en­force­ment’s use of driv­ing while tex­ting as prob­a­ble cause for a stop. That would not in­ter­fere if driv­ing while tex­ting were a sec­ondary charge. My con­cern was ig­nored.

Texas al­ready makes it il­le­gal for a per­son to cause an in­jury while driv­ing a ve­hi­cle with will­ful or wan­ton dis­re­gard for the safety of per­sons or prop­erty — typ­i­cally a mis­de­meanor, which can rise to a felony if a death or in­jury is in­volved.

Tex­ting while driv­ing — and all dis­tracted driv­ing — should be con­sid­ered reck­less driv­ing. No more, no less.

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