AUSTIN – The last time Texas had a day without any deadly crashes, George W. Bush had just been elected president.
One in five crashes is caused by distracted driving. Texas lawmakers recently passed a law banning texting and driving with a goal to save lives. It went into effect in September 2017. In Austin, the city’s hands-free ordinance went into effect in January 2015.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 27 states have banned texting while driving and 16 states have a hands-free law in place.
“We all make a choice when we get behind the wheel and that choice can possibly end up in your death, or possibly killing someone else,” Jovie Masters said.
Masters spoke at the Texas Distracted Driving Summit in Austin Thursday. Her son, Travis, died 10 years ago. He was texting on his phone while driving when the crash happened.
“The empty chair at our table is a constant reminder that our family is not complete,” Masters said while tearing up.
She travels the state to share Travis’ story with a hope to save other lives. She shows people and younger students the phone Travis was using at the time of the crash and reminds them it only takes a split second for something to go wrong.
“We get a license to drive, but it’s a license to kill if you really don’t use it responsibly,” she said.
Jennifer Smith, who is the CEO of StopDistractions.Org, is a Texas native who now lives in Illinois. Her sole mission is to change the behaviors of drivers behind the wheel.
“Ever since I lost my mom 10 years ago by a crash caused by a driver on their cell phone, I’ve dedicated my life to this issue,” she said.
She says she wants lawmakers to address loopholes that could be caused with evolving technology and new apps that are now available on phones.
“People aren’t texting anymore and they’re taking that word literally,” she said. “They’re saying, but I’m not texting, but they’re on Instagram the whole time they’re driving. They’re Snapchatting.”
Advocates are also stressing for a culture shift.
“People will pay a fine and not really care,” Smith said. “There has to be consequences.”
The Texas Dept. of Transportation has launched a campaign called #EndTheStreakTX, hoping that the 18-year streak of having at least one fatal crash each day in the state will end.
“It’s just as serious as drunk driving, speeding or any other distraction that people are doing on the roadways,” Veronica Beyer, spokesperson for TxDOT, said. “The only way to really keep our roads safe is to have all Texans involved. This is about taking personal responsibility. It’s also about approaching it with the three E’s: engineering, education and enforcement.”
The agency also has crash teams that go out after most fatal crashes. Inspectors will study what took place and analyze the data afterward.
It’s difficult to relive the details with every presentation for Masters, but she wants people to realize how their actions can either lead to their own death or the death of someone else.
“People need to understand there are repercussions from that one simple choice to get behind the wheel and not be focused,” Masters said.