Several families who lost loved ones to drivers who were distracted joined a bipartisan collection of state lawmakers Tuesday to call for passage of a bill to ban texting and driving statewide in Texas.
As speakers took turns addressing media and legislative staffers, several people who had family members die on Texas roads sat on a panel in a committee room in the Capitol and held photos of the ones they lost. They came to Austin to send a message to legislators and Gov. Greg Abbott about the need to ban texting and driving on Texas roadways.
State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said she had been working in three previous sessions to pass the ban without success. In 2013, the Legislature approved a statewide ban, only to see Gov. Rick Perry reject it, saying it amounted to a micromanagement of the behavior of adults.
“I am more optimistic in this session, than I was last session,” Zaffirini said.
In a statement issued during his campaign, spokesman Matt Hirsch said that then-Attorney General Abbott was “an assertive advocate against texting and driving” who “supports laws already in place that prohibit cellphone use by young drivers and in school zones.”
But Hirsch also said in the same statement that Abbott “is against additional government mandates that micromanage adult driving behavior.”
At the event in the Capitol extension, a tearful Jeanne Brown of Wellman spoke as she clutched a photo of her daughter Alex, who died at 17 years old in 2009 after a crash that occurred while she was texting while driving.
“This is how I hold my baby now,” Brown said.
Texas leads the nation in many notable ways, Brown said, but not in ending distracted driving.
“We’re a little behind,” she said. “It’s time for us to step up.”
Tracy Myers of Austin was another of the grieving parents in attendance at the event. She lost her daughter Elana Myers in April as she drove home from Texas Tech University.
Myers wasn’t sure what occurred when her daughter crashed, but she knows that the rural stretch of highway where the accident occurred between Lubbock and Austin wasn’t covered by one of the more than 40 Texas city ordinances — like the one in Austin — that bans texting and driving.
“We want to make sure you’re safe on all of the roads in Texas,” she said.
Also at the press conference, making perhaps the most heart-wrenching presentation, were the five children of the Berry family from Houston.
A crash in 2011 killed the kids’ parents — Joshua and Robin Berry — and left two of the boys in wheelchairs. On Tuesday, the family took turns speaking and imploring legislators to pass the texting and driving ban.
“It took a split second to change our lives forever,” said young Misha Berry. “Our goal is to support safe, responsible driving.”