Houston will consider an ordinance banning texting while driving if the Legislature again fails to enact a statewide ban, Mayor Annise Parker said Tuesday.
Parker, flanked by 30 people ranging from high school students to the fire chief, announced the official start of the city’s campaign against texting while driving.
Known as It Can Wait, Houston, the program will use social media, news media and community activism to get the word out, the mayor said.
While officials believe Houston is the first U.S. city to take on the issue with a major campaign, the local program mirrors the 3-year-old It Can Wait program started nationally by AT&T.
Noting that April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the mayor characterized texting while driving as an epidemic that cuts across all communities.
“We have to change the culture that says, ‘I’m just taking my eyes off the road for a moment. It’s no big deal,’ ” Parker said at the news conference, held in the City Hall rotunda. “But it is a big deal. It kills people.”
In 2011, she said, 13 percent of more than 3,000 traffic fatalities across Texas could be blamed on texting while driving.
Local rapper Bun B, who has made a public service video announcement about the issue with the mayor, also spoke at the news conference.
“As a person who has, I guess, a bit of influence with the young people of Houston, I felt it was imperative to be a part of this program,” he said. “Our young people … have learned to text and communicate with these electronic devices before they learned to drive, so they’re incorporating it into their driving.”
Several bills to restrict or forbid the use of handheld wireless devices while driving are working their way through the Legislature. But if the measures don’t become law, Parker said, she has a draft ordinance prepared and will start talking to the City Council about it.
The Legislature banned texting while driving during the 2011 session, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill. A spokesman for Perry has said he still thinks public education is a more effective strategy than “government micromanagement.”
Texas is one of 11 states that haven’t passed legislation banning texting by all drivers. The state does ban texting in school zones, by motorists under 18, or by bus drivers who carry children under 17.
“I prefer to see something at the state level,” Parker said. “This really isn’t something that will be solved with a new law, although it will help. This will be solved by the community setting a new standard, saying, ‘Enough is enough. This isn’t acceptable any longer.’ ”
Other Texas cities that have banned texting while driving include West University Place, Bellaire, Austin, Arlington, San Antonio and El Paso.
While laws against texting while driving may be difficult to enforce, the mayor noted, laws requiring people to wear seat belts were passed before shoulder straps made seat belts visible from outside the car.
“It’s a way of getting people’s attention,” Parker said of the new safety campaign.