Fighting dangerous habits behind the wheel

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A law enforcement officer has no problem finding what he calls distracted drivers

You're driving when your phone rings or beeps. You pick it up to look at it or, even worse, you try to type a response while trying to control your 2,000 pound car. It's a dangerous behavior in which so many of us engage. But authorities here are trying to stop it.

They include Walt Bauer, an investigator for the Waller County District Attorney's Office. He says what he sees on the streets and highways astounds him.

"The ones that I've seen have been driving on the improved shoulder," he recalled. "They've failed to maintain a single lane, almost causing accidents."

In a short trip along Highway 290, he had no problem finding what he calls distracted drivers. He pulled over two in a matter of minutes. Ruben Johnson was one of them, who explained he checked his GPS navigation as he drove. Investigator Bauer says that caused Johnson to swerve. Johnson understands the problem.

"I'm on the road basically the whole day," he explained. "And I see people texting, swerving in and out of lanes."

Johnson got a warning and a lesson about the dangers of distracted driving. It's part of a month long effort among several local law enforcement agencies, warning and ticketing drivers of careless or reckless habits.

Warren Diepraam is spearheading the task force. He's the First Assistant District Attorney in Waller County.

"We can't fight the disease of texting and driving because we don't have the statewide tool available to us, but we can go after the symptoms," he said. "The symptoms of texting and driving are weaving, they're speeding, they're driving slow in the left lane, all of those causing traffic crashes and other sorts of behavior."

Waller County and parts of Ft. Bend and Harris Counties are participating in the educational program, which coincides with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Waller's Police Chief Phil Rehak says it's an important issue to try and tackle. "It only takes about five seconds to send a text," he said. "But that five seconds could change your life."

Except in school zones and for drivers 18 and younger, texting and driving isn't against the law in Texas yet, despite a bill likely to pass the legislature this spring. That's something Walt Bauer would like to see change.
Related Topics:
traffictextingtexting while drivingdistracted drivingdrivertravelWaller CountyHouston
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