SAN ANTONIO – The latest set of new laws taking effect in Texas on Sept. 1 include one that toughens penalties for drivers who are deemed negligent in crashes involving pedestrians.
Law Lisa Torry Smith (SB 1055) is named after a Missouri town mother who was taking her son to school when they were both hit by a driver in a crosswalk. Smith died and her son was seriously injured. The driver was not charged with a crime in the case, prosecutors say, because the law did not allow it at the time.
The law now allows drivers involved in an accident to be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for causing bodily harm to a pedestrian and face a felony in state prison if that pedestrian is seriously injured.
The law follows a deadlier year for pedestrians in 2020, with fatalities up 9% from 2019. There were 60 fatalities in San Antonio alone.
San Antonio leaders have been exploring ways to improve safety on streets like Culebra Road, which has seen high levels of pedestrian injuries and fatalities over the years.
The Texas Department of Transportation is also adding improvements to major projects in the area, with new sidewalks and bike lanes.
“Obviously you’re not going to see specific pedestrian and bike lanes on 35 or 410, but in some other areas that are state-maintained roads where we’re making improvements, we’re making those improvements” said Laura Lopez, a spokeswoman for TxDOT.
Lopez said TxDOT spreads the safety message through other means, including its Be Safe, Drive Smart campaign.
“It’s very important that a walking pedestrian use the crosswalk, not just cross two or three, four lanes of a roadway,” she said. “But for drivers, stop at pedestrians at crosswalks when turning and yield to pedestrians. And that also includes cyclists.
The new law also explicitly states that drivers must “stop and yield to pedestrians lawfully at the intersection or at an adjacent crosswalk”. This also applies to cyclists and those who drive scooters or golf carts.
It is important to note that the penalties under the new law may not apply if a pedestrian is found not to be in a crosswalk at the time of an accident.
A felony in state prison can result in a sentence ranging from 180 days to two years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
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