SAN ANTONIO – The latest round of new laws taking effect in Texas on Sept. 1 includes one that strengthens penalties for drivers who are found negligent in crashes involving pedestrians.
The Lisa Torry Smith Act (SB 1055) is named after a Missouri City mother who was taking her son to school when they were both struck 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, according to prosecutors, because the law didn’t allow it at the time.
The act now allows drivers involved in a crash to be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for causing bodily harm to a pedestrian and face a state jail felony if that pedestrian is seriously injured.
The law follows a deadlier year for pedestrians in 2020, with a 9% increase in fatalities over 2019. There were 60 deaths in San Antonio alone.
San Antonio leaders have been exploring ways to improve safety of streets like Culebra Road, which has seen high levels of pedestrian injuries and deaths over the years.
The Texas Department of Transportation is also adding enhancements to major projects in the region, featuring new sidewalks and bike lanes.
“Obviously, you’re not going to see lanes specifically for pedestrians and bicyclists on 35 or 410, but in some other areas that are state-maintained roadways where we’re making improvements, we do make those accommodations,” said Laura Lopez, a spokesperson for TxDOT.
Lopez said TxDOT is spreading the message of safety in other ways, including its Be Safe, Drive Smart campaign.
“It’s very important that a pedestrian who is walking uses the crosswalk, not just crossing over two or three, four lanes of a roadway,” she said. “But for drivers, stop for pedestrians at crosswalks when turning and yield the right of way for pedestrians. And that also includes bicyclists.”
The new law also explicitly states that drivers must “stop and yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully in the intersection or an adjacent crosswalk.” That also applies to bicyclists, and those riding scooters or golf carts.
Importantly, the penalties under the new law may not apply if a pedestrian is found to not have been in a crosswalk at the time of a crash.
A state jail felony can carry a penalty of between 180 days and two years in prison, and fines of up to $10,000.
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