Also called the Lisa Torry Smith Act, the new law was inspired by the 2017 death of a Missouri City woman who died after being hit in a crosswalk while taking her son to school, according to a Texas Department of Transportation press release. The driver who hit Torry Smith and injured her son was fined $50, but they did not face criminal charges.
“For us, [this law] is the best thing that could have come out of a tragedy,” Torry Smith’s husband, Elliot Smith, said in audio provided by TxDOT. “There’s accountability now. Before this law was passed, the accountability was on the pedestrian to essentially make sure you don’t get hit by a car. ... This law puts the impetus on drivers now to pay attention, to slow down and look for people in crosswalks.”
Prior to the Lisa Torry Smith Act becoming law, drivers who were not under the influence of alcohol or narcotics could be issued citations, but not criminally charged, Smith said.
After her death, a grand jury did not prosecute the defendant in Torry Smith’s case, prompting Brian Middleton, Fort Bend County district attorney, to draft the legislation. Working with the bill’s author state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and sponsor, state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, Middleton and other supporters advocated for its passage.
Middleton said the law aims to clarify the definition of criminal negligence as it pertains to collisions in a crosswalk. Under the new law, if a driver causes bodily injury to a pedestrian, they can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. If the collision causes severe injury or death, the driver can be charged with a state jail felony, Middleton said.
Additionally, Middleton said the law updated the Texas Transportation Code to require drivers to stop and yield to pedestrians legally using a crosswalk.
Pedestrian deaths account for one in five of all traffic fatalities, and the number of pedestrian fatalities from vehicular crashes rose 5% from 2016-20, according to TxDOT.
“We’re hoping these efforts raise people’s awareness that when they are approaching a crosswalk area, they need to slow down, be observant and check the area for pedestrians, cyclists and people with motorized mobility devices,” Middleton said.