Texas legislators and their staffs often reach out to researchers at TTI for a wide variety of needs. The 2011 Legislative Session was particularly active for staff of the Center for Transportation Safety, as lawmakers addressed numerous issues related to roadway safety.
Research Scientist Melissa Walden and Associate Research Scientist Troy Walden met with staff members from the offices of State Sen. Steve Ogden and State Sen. Dan Patrick to review a variety of issues related to driving while intoxicated. Eventually, one bill authored by each senator was passed:
- Senate Bill 364, by Sen. Ogden, which will require the Texas Department of Public Safety to produce an annual report on DWI prosecutions in Texas.
- Senate Bill 1787, by Sen. Patrick, which will require peace officers requesting a specimen to inform the person that if they refuse, the officer may request a warrant to take the specimen from the person.
A third bill that was passed, by Rep. Pete Gallego, will make intoxication assault a 2nd degree felony (instead of a 3rd degree felony under current law), if the assault places the victim “in a persistent vegetative state.”
All three laws take effect on September 1.
Lawmakers filed a total of 36 bills addressing the DWI problem in Texas, addressing fines, ignition interlock devices, blood alcohol concentration testing, and a number of other considerations. When one of those ignition interlock bills came up for a public hearing, Melissa Walden was invited to testify before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence in March, where she illustrated how ignition interlocks have been a successful countermeasure in other states.
“Texas has one of the most serious impaired driving problems in the nation, and our state’s leaders are certainly devoting a lot of attention to it,” Walden says. “We’re honored to assist the Legislature with something so important as this.”
The bill on which Walden testified, House Bill 189 by State Rep. Todd Smith, was passed by the House of Representatives but was not taken up by the Senate in the limited time that remained in the session.
Legislators have also devoted attention to the problem of distracted driving, introducing a total of 16 bills designed to further regulate the practice of texting and talking on cell phones while driving. And when a bill to outlaw texting at the wheel came up for consideration in March, Assistant Research Scientist Joel Cooper was called upon for invited testimony, in which he outlined the current state of knowledge based on distracted driving research.
“Texting while driving, as a specific field of research, is still quite new, but we are in fact learning more and more about how dangerous it can be and what countermeasures might be most effective.” Cooper says. “Anytime we can share our knowledge with policy makers, we believe we’re providing a valuable public service.”
House Bill 242, authored by State Rep. Tom Craddick, would have prohibited sending or receiving text messages and e-mail except in cases of emergency. The proposed legislation passed both the House and Senate but was later vetoed by Governor Rick Perry.
In addition to formal testimony, CTS researchers prepared briefing papers on the DWI and distracted driving issues in response to legislative staff requests.
Researchers also prepared a briefing paper on the subject of speed limits at the request of legislative staff. Legislators eventually passed a new law that raises the speed limit in Texas to 75 miles per hour on most rural roads and eliminates the lower nighttime limits, and also approved a provision that allows an 85 mile per hour limit on certain new roads in the state. In each case, engineering studies will be required before the higher limits can take effect.