By CHRIS AGEE
As cell phone use has become ubiquitous among Americans, concern over how distracting the handheld devices are to drivers has grown.
According to one study conducted by the Center for Disease Control, more than half of all high school seniors admitted texting or sending emails while driving during the previous month.
While there are state laws limiting certain drivers from using handheld cell phones and certain municipal ordinances enforce further restrictions, some legislators feel the issue deserves more extensive regulation.
District 82 Congressman Tom Craddick, R-Midland, commented prior to the beginning of the current legislative session concerning his proposed texting bill.
"It is time for Texans to join the other 39 states and the District of Columbia to ban this dangerous behavior for all drivers," he said. "The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to give our law enforcement the tools they need to make our roadways safer."
A number of local drivers support additional laws, noting the inherent danger distracted drivers pose to the public.
Dara Carver said she supports legislation making texting while driving illegal.
"I think it needs to be a law," she said, explaining the problem exists everywhere but is more concentrated in urban centers.
"If you go to the city, everybody's texting while driving," she said.
Though hands-free devices may reduce the risk of driver distraction, Carver said she prefers to play it safe while driving.
"I don't even get on it," she said.
Many drivers admitted to being tempted, though everyone seemed to realize texting while behind the wheel is dangerous.
"I try not to," Steven Jones said. "There are a lot of crashes."
He said if the need to use his cell phone arises while he's in the driver's seat, he makes sure to wait until it is safe to do so.
"If it's something important, I'll wait until a red light," he said, expressing his support for legislation regulating texting behind the wheel.
"It's already bad enough without it, [texting] just adds to it," he said.
Local law enforcement continues to monitor the use of cell phones by drivers but has not yet enacted any ordinance directly related to the issue, according to Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan.
He said the greatest emphasis relates to "restrictions and prohibitions on cell phone use in school zones," adding he is "closely monitoring our current legislation session [and] following Rep. Craddick's bill with interest."
Craddick's bill is one of seven presented by state lawmakers this year. His proposal would prohibit text messaging using handheld devices while allowing the entry of phone numbers and texting via hands-free device.
The other proposed bills contain similar provisions, including fines of up to $400 for violations within a school zone.
"I think limiting the number of distractions while operating a vehicle is a good thing for everybody," Sullivan said, noting he would be open to proposing a local law should he identify a need.
"As far as localized interest involving an ordinance," he said, "I'm going to be conservative and monitor the progress of the legislature during this session on this issue and as we're closing out the year 2012 statistical instances, I'll take a look at that and see if that's an issue. If we need an ordinance preemptively, I'm not opposed to that."
While drivers have always had something to distract them, Sullivan said this specific issue is relatively new.
"It's only been a few years that the state added that category on accident reports to include driver distraction associated with use of a device or texting while driving," he said, noting the problem is greater in areas with higher population density.
"The more volume of cars, the more glaring the issue from time to time," he added. "Looking at statistics in Mineral Wells, I haven't noticed that being a big, glaring factor [but it] does play a role in some of the accidents around here."
Current state laws already prohibit the use of cell phones by drivers in certain circumstances.
Drivers under 18 years of age may not use any wireless communications devices and anyone operating a vehicle with a learner's permit may not use handheld cell phones during the first six months of driving.
School bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving with children on board and no one may use any handheld device while driving in school crossing zones.
Additionally, several other Texas cities, including Stephenville, have enacted their own local laws dealing with distracted driving.
According to a Texas Department of Transportation traffic safety report, distracted driving is the third leading cause of traffic fatalities. According to a real-world study among Virginia Tech researchers, texting drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident or near accident than those without the distraction.