Two years prior, a 44-year-old woman was killed when she hit a tractor-trailer while driving through Peñitas.
In both cases, the drivers were texting while driving.
“Oprah calls it an epidemic,” said Monica Ramos with Cazares Driving School in a presentation to students at Mission High School. “Pretty much it’s more than an epidemic.”
She compared texting and driving with the photos printed in Mexican newspapers showing bodies riddled with bullets and slumped over a steering wheel.
Ramos, a former Valley teacher, is full of stories of young people making poor decisions, citing a story about a 14-year-old in Edinburg who was driving down State Highway 107 a few years ago.
“This young lady was so into her phone and texting that she missed the stop sign. The truck that was coming the other way didn’t miss her,” Ramos said. “Nearly everyone has been in a car with someone else that was texting. They’re putting your lives in jeopardy.”
Though students were reluctant to admit they themselves have texted while driving, most raised their hands when Ramos asked if they’d ever been in the car with their parents who were texting and driving.
There have been statewide efforts to ban texting and driving, and at the urging of people like Valley resident Lisa Chapa, who lost her sister in a texting and driving incident, the Legislature passed a bill in 2011 banning the practice, but it was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who said it “micromanaged the behavior of adults.”
Perry’s stance on banning texting and driving hasn’t stopped cities from passing ordinances against the practice in their own jurisdictions. McAllen, Harlingen, Mission, Peñitas and Palmhurst have all passed ordinances banning drivers from viewing or sending electronic messages while driving.
Legislators also managed to ban texting and driving for teens and in school zones.
But the ban may prove easier said than done.
“It’s a violation that is certainly very challenging,” said Mission City Manager Martin Garza. “Most of the time as an officer when you’re dealing with violations, traffic violations, you’re looking at vehicles—you’re looking at moving violations, you’re looking at things that the vehicles should have. That is what your eye is commonly trained for.
“For the enforcement part of this, the officer has to be more attentive, more alert in looking at these types of violations because you’re dealing with the driver and what he’s doing inside the vehicle.”
Garza said Mission holds special operations, especially in school zones, that target texting while driving.
As a result, the number of citations Mission’s handed out are higher than neighbor McAllen. In 2011, Mission issued 164 citations compared to 34 in McAllen when the ordinances were first adopted.
Those numbers dropped in 2012 to 46 in McAllen and 56 in Mission.
Peñitas, which passed a ban in 2011 after a woman was decapitated when texting on the highway, has issued just five citations over the past three years.
Chief Roel Bermea said it’s tough to enforce on the highway when people are driving fast. Once, he said, a woman was pulled over and accused of texting while driving, and said she had a brush in her hand. Her phone was on the other side of the car.
Bermea said he only knows of two accidents caused by texting and driving in the area.
“We haven’t really seen it too much, but of course people lie to us,” Bermea said. “It’s a necessary tool, but it’s a tool. It shouldn’t be abused, but we all do it.
“I do it, too,” Bermea said, admitting his wife has gotten on to him for checking his email while driving.
A new generation
Instructor Ramos said when she was growing up, the big buzz was drunken driving. People knew not to drive at certain times because “that’s when the drunks come out.” Now, though, someone seen swerving on the road could very well be someone texting, she said.
Ramos suggested students use apps that silence phones when driving, pointing to a study that showed that a drunk person has a better reaction time than someone who is texting.
“He’s looking up, she’s looking up. They might be able to stop,” Ramos explained. “How’s the texter? Distractions cause tons of accidents.”
Andy Garcia, a senior at Mission High School and vice president of Health Occupations Students of America, said he puts his phone in the glove compartment so he won’t be tempted.
Christine Perez, president of HOSA, said she almost hit her head on the dashboard of a vehicle just a few weeks prior when a friend was texting and driving and nearly got into an accident.
Garcia, Perez and other HOSA members worked in November to raise awareness of the dangers of driving while texting. The group put up signs across campus and spend a lunch period asking students to sign pledges that they wouldn’t text and drive.
“My parents are some of those people that like to have their phone out, so I’m like, I’m not going to be like my parents,” Garcia said. “There have been a few incidents in the past, and it’s grabbing people’s attention.”