AUSTIN, Texas - Sitting behind pictures of loved ones killed in crashes, 15 Texas families tearfully pleaded with lawmakers to support a statewide texting-while-driving ban.
"This is how I hold my baby now," said Jeanne Brown, wiping away tears as she held a framed photograph of her daughter Alex, for whom the proposed ban is named. Alex Brown died at the age of 17 in 2007, when she crashed while texting and driving on the way to her West Texas high school.
Brown and others attended a briefing Tuesday at the Texas Capitol in support of a measure filed for the fourth consecutive session by Democratic Sen. Judith Zaffirini.
The Alex Brown Memorial Act would prohibit motorists from using a wireless device to read, write or send a text message while driving unless the vehicle is stopped and outside of traffic lanes. Offenses would constitute Class C misdemeanors, punishable by fines ranging from $25 to $200.
Critics say cellphone restrictions are ineffective, and that many things -- not just a mobile device -- distract drivers.
"The takeaway from the research that we've done is that cellphone restrictions have been found to reduce phone use by drivers, but unfortunately, there's no evidence that crashes go down as a result," said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Highway Loss Data Institute and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conduct research in an effort to reduce crashes.
Law enforcement agencies in Texas reported that cellphone usage caused crashes that killed 52 people in 2014, according to data requested from the Texas Department of Transportation.
In 2013, when 459 people died in Texas crashes involving a distracted driver, 56 fatalities were caused by cellphone use, the department said.
Zaffirini, of Laredo, said she first proposed the ban after riding with a staffer who used a cellphone while driving. She said the statewide ban is especially needed to replace a "patchwork of laws in Texas," created by 40 Texas cities that have a variety of bans on cellphone usage.
Since 2009, similar legislation has failed to become law. One bill passed both chambers in 2011 but was vetoed by former Gov. Rick Perry.
When asked if he'd support a statewide ban, new Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday "it's premature" to say.
"We don't want people texting and driving," he added. "But we need to find a way to do it without too much government intrusion."
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