How is Houston enforcing texting while driving law?

HOUSTON – The impact of distracted driving forever haunts Stacey Riddle's family. Just ask her about her daughters Jade and Brianna. 

"Very gifted in sports, both girls." She said. "It seemed like everything (Brianna) touched turn to gold. When (Jade) got her scholarship, she was so excited."

It's a collage of wonderful memories, until Riddle shares the one story no parent should tell.

"March 20 is when they were killed," she said.

Nearly two years ago, Jade and Brianna were killed near Corpus Christi by a semitruck that plowed into their vehicle.

"Every big truck, 18-wheeler, I would see, I would have these anxiety attacks," Riddle said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said a cellphone being used for navigation was a factor in the crash.

"My belief in God is very strong, but the pain that I feel each day of not having my children, never having grandchildren -- our lives is just kind of over," Riddle said.

"I believe that the statute doesn't have any teeth," Houston traffic attorney Paul Kubosh said, referring to the state's texting and driving law that went into effect on Sept. 1. "I have seen hundreds of thousands of infractions."

He said what he has not seen are tickets issued by the Houston Police Department for texting and driving.

"I expected to see a lot and I haven't seen any in my firm," Kubosh said.

Channel 2 Investigates checked with the state's four biggest cities to find out how many tickets each has produced in the first 90 days of the new law.

Here are the numbers:

  • Austin: 2,700
  • San Antonio: 2,415
  • Dallas: 876
  • Houston: 172
  • Sugar Land: 1
  • Map: City of Houston distracted driving violations

    View Distracted Driving Citations in a full-screen map

    "Wow, that is unbelievable," Riddle said in reaction to the numbers. "It's shocking. Why?"

    Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo was not shocked..

    "Am I surprised? No. We have a lot of balls in the air," he said.

    While Acevedo was quick to point out that driving fatalities in Houston have fallen by approximately 4 percent from year to year, he acknowledged that more can be done.

    "It's a tool that we know is in our tool chest," he said. "We know that enforcing the texting and driving ban is important."

    When asked if the law is flawed, Acevedo said, "It's incomplete. The law is incomplete. We did a texting while driving ban, but we did not do a hands-free."

    Kubosh agreed with Acevedo that the law needs bolstering since it focuses only on texting and driving.

    "If you are using your cellphone to play music, if you are looking at Google Maps, if you are looking at an Amber Alert, and the list goes on, so how can a police officer or the prosecution prove that you weren't doing those things?" Kubosh said. "And since they have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, it's going to be very difficult in front of jury."

    "If I don't physically see you do it, we can't act on it," Sgt. Andy Spangle, the head of the Houston Police Department's drivers training unit, said.

    Spangle is referring to another flaw in the law: If a driver gets pulled over for texting, the law enforcement officer then must rely on the driver to admit that they were texting, since an officer cannot simply grab a driver's phone to examine it.

    Spangle said texting is the only infraction that relies on the honor system.

    Riddle said it's frustrating, considering how prevalent texting and driving is in Houston.

    "I still see it every day after the law went into effect and it's still a dangerous situation," Riddle said. "I drive all day long and I see people all day long texting."

    Riddle said it's time to not only better enforce the law, but to amend it.

    "I don't think it should be texting and driving," she said. "It really needs to be: Focus."

    Click the link below to read the law.

    File: HB 62 Texting and Driving Texas Law_20180109175203

    About the Authors:

    Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.

    Award-winning broadcast journalist covering local, regional, national and international stories. Recognized in the industry for subject matter expertise including: Legal/Court Research, the Space Industry, Education, Environmental Issues, Underserved Populations and Data Visualization.