Texas House Bill 19 is caught between two coalitions. One focused on lawsuits, and one focused on safety. The subject of the bill is the trucking industry.
More people die in truck accidents in Texas than in any other state.
In fact, it’s twice as many as the next highest state, California, and now the legislature wants to do something about it. However, it’s not what you might expect.
John Esparza President and CEO of The Texas Trucking Association said The Keep Texas Trucking Coalition is hoping for the passage of House Bill 19, which he said will “clean up some of the litigation issues that we're seeing.”
According to Esparza trucking lawsuits are up 118 percent since 2008, which he claims are often people trying to hit the lottery.
“The problem is, that you know you've got to scrape or something minor that turns into a 500 million dollar quest," said Esparza.
However, Ware Wendell, Executive Director of the non-profit Texas Watch, said the bill allows trucking companies to hide their negligence and their liability.
“They can make this election and say yes that's our driver, yes he was on the job,” said Wendell, citing section 72.054. “When they do that they can now focus all of the attention on what the driver did wrong in the seconds leading up to the crash.”
Wendell said that will then lead to a drop in road safety.
“I think we're going to see even more pressure put on truck drivers because the trucking companies have less incentive to follow the law. The safety laws will be weakened. They will be gutted," said Wendell.
In the bill, there are 10 mentions of liability but not a single mention of safety measures.
Safety measures like under-ride guards or improved lighting could’ve saved Jay Rosenberg’s wife and daughter when a truck failed to yield at a stop sign late at night.
“The truck was not illuminated,” Rosenberg. “It was what's called an under-ride collision where the car goes under the truck and they both perished immediately. There's so many aspects to it that were preventable.”
“That would be duplicative of the current law. Those measures that you're talking about are in current law," said Esparza.
When asked if they are written into law as mandates?
“Those are actually adopted as new equipment comes online," according to Esparza.
ABC 7 News reached out to nearly a dozen legislators who authored or co-authored House Bill 19 to answer some questions about safety, but they were all on the house floor.
As for Rosenberg should this bill become law, "it's like giving them a pass to ignore the cost of human life,” said Rosenberg. “Because this bill gives even less incentive than what's currently existing now, for companies to put the value of human life into their calculations.”
The legislation passed on second reading earlier Thursday and now heads to the Senate.
Wendell urges folks to contact their local lawmakers and let their voices be heard on this topic.
A petition to improve lighting on tractor-trailers and tanker trucks nationally can be found here.