Passage of SB 1055 sparks paradigm shift in Texas pedestrian safety

As many of us know in our bones – when we’re considering how to get across a six lane stroad with people driving 50mph in the middle of a Texas city – Texas streets are not safe for people when we are walking, biking, or using an assistive mobility device. We consistently rank as one of the most dangerous states for pedestrians in national studies.

This 87th session, the Texas legislature and Governor Greg Abbott finally took action to make Texas safer for all of us when we aren’t protected by the metal, impact zones, and seatbelts of a car or truck. The Lisa Torry Smith Act, SB 1055, was carried through the House and Senate by Representative Ron Reynolds and Senator Joan Huffman, and signed into law by Governor Abbot on Friday, June 18th. The new regulations will take effect this coming September 1st, a momentous shift in Texas public policy and the rules of the road.

A significant reason so many of us have been hurt or are scared to walk, bike, or use our assistive mobility device, is that we all have been raised in Texas to be terrible at following our existing pedestrian right of way laws. We teach our children to assume that people will drive right through a crosswalk even if they have already begun legally crossing. And if we are honest, we know that most of us act as if pedestrians, people riding bikes and using wheelchairs are annoying obstacles in a transportation system designed for cars and trucks.

SB 1055 will change this. The law does two things, which will be in effect across the State of Texas on September 1, 2021.

First, it makes it a crime in Texas to operate a motor vehicle in a way that injures someone who is legally using a crosswalk, whether they be a pedestrian, or using a bicycle, motor-assisted scooter, electronic personal assistive mobility device, neighborhood electric vehicle, or golf cart.

Second, SB 1055 includes the Stop for Pedestrians bill, which was originally filed as HB 443 by Representative Celia Israel and proposed by Farm&City, and was added to bill as an amendment by House Transportation Chair Terry Canales. This provision does not change any of the places where a pedestrian legally has the right of way, but simply requires that all of us stop and yield if a pedestrian is in our path, instead of just rolling through and attempting to yield.

These changes in law will protect children, the elderly, and everyone in between and make getting around more comfortable and safe for people of all abilities. They will help all of us use our potentially dangerous machines – our cars and trucks – more safely.

To optimize this shift, we need significant and broad public investment in messaging and education campaigns to teach Texans how to comply with the new policies from this bill – and our long-established basis pedestrian right of way laws – and drive safely around pedestrians. But we also need all of us as individuals to commit to unlearning our dangerous driving habits and adopt a new driving culture in Texas that puts safety first.

The 2017 Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan has a significant focus on pedestrian safety, with a comprehensive suite of proven strategies that our local governments and state agencies are supposed to be working to implement. With the passage of SB 1055, the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Public Safety, and local governments should work together on a massive push to achieve this one countermeasure: Driver Awareness.

Farm&City is proud to have been part of this shift and abundantly grateful to all the legislators, the Governor, the staffers, and especially to the families who told their stories of grief so that other Texas families will not have to suffer as they have. Thank you to all the supporters and volunteers of Vision Zero Texas for getting us to this point of meaningful progress that many thought impossible several years ago.

Thank you Bike Texas for all your work on this. And thank you so much to the family of Lisa Torry Smith for your strength and all that you have given to your fellow Texans by changing Texas law for the better.