The most recent census ranks Houston as the US city with the third-largest daily influx of commuters. Says Clyde Peterson, a retired editorial cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle, "403, 313 people head into our city every day, and I'd just like to make sure that fewer than 403,313 of those people are texting while driving. A lot fewer."
Clyde is one of those local heroes I had in mind when I blogged that, "the fight to end distracted driving is gaining grassroots momentum." He is a man on a mission.
"It started small," says Clyde. "I was working with a local school--Longfellow Elementary--just trying to get signs reminding drivers to not text because they were in a school zone. We don't ban texting while driving in Texas, but we do ban it in school zones. Parents were concerned because drivers were plowing by, completely oblivious to the kids."
Clyde asked the state for signage near Longfellow, but the state replied it was a municipal matter, and that the city could not place signs around one school zone without also placing them around all of the city's school zones.
But the Houston City Council rebuffed those efforts.
As Clyde tells it, "They said, 'We're just not gonna do it; we can't afford it.' I said, they're just gonna have to not do something else; we're trying to keep our kids alive."
"The more I learned about it," he says, "the more dangerous I realized it was. And the more persuaded I was that signs would be useful but what we really need is a city ban on texting. I didn't know the council would drag their heels so much."
Photo of Clyde Peterson drawing Swifty, courtesy myFOXhouston.com
So Clyde decided to put his professional skills to good use:
"I'd contact them about this danger, and all I would get is an auto-response: 'Thank you for your input.' That's when I came up with Swifty."
Swifty is Clyde's cartoon turtle, a plodder who is just as likely to tuck his head into his shell as pay attention to the dangers around him.
Through Facebook, email and local media, Clyde thinks Swifty will eventually be able to do what he has yet to achieve alone: get the City Council's attention.
In the meantime, Clyde has been forwarding news articles and research he gathers on the dangers of distracted driving to councilmembers.
"If someone gets hurt by a texting driver in Houston," Clyde says, "it won't be because our council never heard about distracted driving."
Clyde hopes his campaign will grow too large for the council to ignore. I hope he's right.
And I want to thank him for his efforts by giving him the last word:
"I don't want something to happen to a kid in my community or someone I love. I've seen the evidence, and I want to fix this; it's that simple. Don't ever ask me what I could have done but didn't bother doing."