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Bill Against Texting While Driving Makes Way to Senate Panel

Veronica Zaragovia for KUT News

Yesterday, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute released results of its study that suggests voice-to-text phone apps or voice devices used in the car are as dangerous as texting and driving. 

Today, lawmakers in the Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony related to a bill by State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, that would make it a statewide offense to text and drive.

During the hearing, Christine Yager with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, told lawmakers that research by the University of Utah has shown hand-free or hand-held talking causes a driver to have the same impairment behind the wheel as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08. That's because the motorist is focusing on the conversation, not the driving.

She also discussed her own research.

"In 2011 I looked at the effects of reading vs. writing text-based messages," Yager said. "We found that the driver response times were twice as slow when they were reading or writing text-based messages compared to not texting."

When committee members vote on the measure, they'll vote on a committee substitute to Rep. Craddick's original version of the bill, HB 63. 

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-El Paso, introduced the committee substitute  that would, among other changes to the original measure, require distracted driving content as part of driving exams. That would make Texas eligible to receive grant money from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Federal funding is available to help states that have anti-distracted driving legislation. It would also create a scale of fines for distracted driving penalties.

Committee members will vote on the bill and decide whether to send it on to the Senate floor.