In News, Texas Law, Texting and Driving

“Somebody needs to get this guy off the road!”

Tragedy struck near Concan, Texas on Wednesday afternoon, March 29, when a young man driving a Dodge pickup crossed the center line and collided head-on with a passenger bus carrying 14 elderly individuals returning from a 3-day retreat at the Alto Frio Baptist Encampment in Leakey, Texas — roughly 10 miles from where the crash occurred.

The driver, identified as Jack Dillon Young (age 20), admitted to having been texting while driving at the scene, which caused him to drift into the oncoming traffic lane as he rounded a curve along U.S. 83 in Uvalde County. Sadly, twelve bus passengers were pronounced dead at the scene, and another died at a San Antonio hospital. As of yet, only Young and one bus passenger have survived, although their current medical status is unclear.

Prior to the crash, a motorist traveling directly behind Young contacted 911 to report that the truck was swerving erratically and traveling well above the speed limit. During the two-minute call, the concerned driver (later identified as Jody Kuchler) repeatedly stated that the situation required immediate intervention. Mr. Kuchler’s girlfriend, Thania Sanchez, recorded Mr. Young’s erratic driving prior to the crash.

View the video here: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local/article/Witness-video-shows-moments-church-bus-crash-11042124. (Warning: This video does contain graphic language.)

You can hear the urgency and shock at the driver’s erratic behavior: “I’m following this guy in a white Dodge Dually. He’s all over the road, both sides… I don’t know if he’s drunk or what the deal is, but somebody needs to stop him, check him,” reported Mr. Kuchler. “He’s going to hit somebody head-on or he’s going to kill his own damn self. Somebody needs to get this guy off the road. He’s going like 80 miles an hour right now.”

Less than 20 minutes later, Mr. Kuchler’s fears were realized. According to early reports, it seems as though “most, if not all” of the bus passengers were wearing their seatbelts at the time of the crash, but it appears the size of the vehicles, the speed at which Mr. Young was traveling, and the violence of the collision was simply too much for the bus passengers to sustain.

Texting, Driving, and the Law

As early as 2001, New York passed a statewide ban against drivers talking on handheld devices while behind the wheel. Now, a total of 12 states and the District of Columbia have outright bans against talking on a handheld cell phone while driving. In 2008, Washington was the first state to explicitly outlaw texting and driving, and a total of 41 states and the District of Columbia have made it illegal for all drivers (not just teens) to text and drive.

The effect of these bans is striking. In the years since many of these bans have been instituted, drivers’ handheld phone use has declined by between 24% and 76%. In New York, where an all-encompassing ban on handheld device use has been in place the longest, crash studies indicate that the average rate of automotive crash injuries significantly declined in nearly 75% of counties after the ban was put in place. Other studies have also verified the significant positive impact of all-age handheld device bans as well as all-age texting and driving bans.

Similarly, stricter laws against drunk driving have led to a marked decrease in those accidents in recent years. Yet, despite the success of increased regulations and enforcing tougher penalties on drunk drivers, four states (including Texas) have resisted passing similar legislation aimed at curtailing the rising number of car wrecks caused by distracted driving. This is especially disheartening when you consider that, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to cause a crash, which is roughly the same as a driver who drinks four beers before turning the ignition.

While Texas does not have a statewide ban on texting and driving, some municipalities in the state do have their own laws regarding cell phone use. San Antonio, for example, has a handheld device ban for all drivers.

Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, has been attempting to pass legislation to penalize drivers who use their phones while on the road for several years. His proposal passed through both the Texas State House and Senate in 2011, but Governor Perry vetoed the bill at the time ― stating it would “micromanage the behavior of adults.” Subsequent attempts at passing sensible legislation in 2013 and 2015 passed through the House before stalling in the Senate by narrow margins.

In March of this year, a new bill to ban texting and driving (again authored and supported by Rep. Tom Craddick ― HB 62) passed in the Texas House and out of committee in the Senate. The bill (SB 31) will now be considered by the Senate at large and, if passed there, should be signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. Having a statewide law will bring Texas in line with the overwhelming majority of other states in the U.S. and communicate to all drivers in our state that distracted driving is a lethal danger to yourself and others on the road. Hopefully, future senseless tragedies like the one on Wednesday will be prevented once this bill becomes a law.

Tom Crosley Continues to Advocate for Stricter Texting and Driving Laws

Here at Crosley Law Firm, we are intimately familiar with the fatal danger distracted driving poses to innocent bystanders. Recently, Robert “Bobby” Cornish, a 32-year old father, was hit and killed by a teen driver who was texting while driving. Taking up this case, Crosley Law Firm filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of Mr. Cornish’s family. Tom Crosley, who is representing the family of the deceased pro bono, stated, “The lawsuit is not about money. The purpose of the lawsuit is to try to make a difference and send a message on this important public safety issue.” Added Crosley, “Distracted driving is the new DWI. Driving while texting represents an eightfold increase in wrecks.”

Crosley Law Firm is striving to raise awareness and help the Cornish family get their message out about the importance of distracted driving legislation as well as everyone’s personal responsibility to avoid this lethal behavior. In fact, Crosley Law Firm is offering a $1,000 scholarship to a San Antonio area high school senior who conscientiously and compellingly reflects on the role that distracted driving has played in his or her life.

In addition to promoting legislation against texting and driving as well as encouraging personal responsibility through a scholarship and ongoing educational content provided here, Mr. Crosley and his staff have been advocating for the rights of distracted driving victims for years. We have represented dozens of plaintiffs in these types of cases and have a long track record of success.

If you have been injured or lost a loved one in a car crash, especially if another motorist was driving distracted, please contact Crosley Law Firm at (210) LAW-3000 to receive a free consultation. Crosley Law Firm represents clients on a contingent fee basis, which means you do not pay us a dime unless or until your case is successfully resolved.

References

McCartt, A. T., Kidd, D. G., & Teoh, E. R. (2014, March). Driver cell phone and texting bans in the United States: Evidence of effectiveness. Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, 58, 99-114. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4001674/

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Overview of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Driver Distraction Program. Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/nti/distracted_driving/pdf/811299.pdf

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