Why Austin’s cell phone-while-driving ban may escape the scrutiny of Abbott

In his remarks last week going after local bans, including ones involving fracking and plastic bags, Gov.-elect Greg Abbott didn’t mention one that has recently taken hold in Austin: Cell phone use while driving.

On the campaign trail, Abbott said that he opposed a statewide ban on texting while driving. But he has lately declined to elucidate his stance on cell phone bans, and his omission on that topic last week appears to create a small opening for lawmakers who have supported a ban on driving-while-texting in previous sessions. It also suggests that Austin’s cell phone ban could survive a likely round of legislation that takes aim at plastic bag bans and tree removal bans.

The intellectual scaffolding for the Gov.-elect and lawmakers as they clamber about to oppose some local bans while withholding attacks may be built on a public safety foundation: Don’t be surprised to see moderate lawmakers, already reluctant to stick their nose in local issues, to turn to public safety as a reason to stop short of legislation overriding a local ban.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, supports a statewide ban on texting while driving.
State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, supports a statewide ban on texting while driving.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, a co-sponsor of a statewide driving-while-texting ban, said he hoped this time around such a bill would be signed into law by Abbott. Gov. Rick Perry had vetoed such a ban.

“Gov. Perry’s rational (with the veto) was invasion of your personal liberty, which is pretty nonsensical in my mind,” Cook said. “We have done a lot of things to ensure roadways are as safe as possible: Otherwise we wouldn’t be relegated to driving on one side of the road, to make that experience as safe as possible. We’re hopeful that Gov.-elect Abbott will look at this proposed legislation in its totality, that it will clearly will benefit the citizens of Texas, and do what’s right for Texas and make a safer environment for people.”

Asked how he would feel about legislation aimed at overturning Austin’s cell phone use ban, Cook said: “To the extent local communities have already enacted a ban on texting while driving, they are taking appropriate action.”

Author: Asher Price

Asher Price has covered energy and the environment for the American-Statesman since 2006. Twice the Society of Environmental Journalists has named him a finalist for its beat reporter of the year award. He spent part of the spring of 2011 as an environmental science journalism fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and during the 2011-12 academic year was stationed at Columbia’s business and journalism schools as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. He is the co-author of the book The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. (UT Press.) His new book, Year of the Dunk, comes out in May 2015. He lives in the South Congress neighborhood with his wife and dog.

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