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

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

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.”