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A unanimous vote of approval from the City’s Public Safety Committee Wednesday means City Council will consider passage of a distracted driving ordinance as soon as Oct. 30. The ordinance would prohibit almost all use of a mobile device, including tablets, while driving on city streets, even stopped at a traffic signal, construction area, or in a traffic jam.
That means no calling, texting, emailing, gaming, taking photos, viewing videos, or surfing websites while behind the wheel. Basically, the ordinance would require drivers to put away phones and keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
There are, of course, exceptions. Hands-free devices would still be allowed, as well as GPS mapping apps that provide directions by attaching to the dashboard or windshield. The ordinance would not extend to drivers on private property or while a vehicle is legally parked. It also would be legal to use a phone in an emergency situation, and when using a phone would prevent injury to a person or property.
The 2008 and 2010 ordinances now on the books restrict texting while driving and all use of phones in school zones. A citation carries a $200 fine but is not considered a moving violation. More than 7,000 citations have been issued since 2008, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus told members of the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. Since the 2010 city-wide ban on texting, the San Antonio Police Department has reported more than 1,900 accidents involving the use of cellphones, with six accidents resulting in a fatality.
“It has been a challenge enforcing those ordinances,” said McManus.
Officers have a small window, literally, to look at the right place at the right time – so it’s difficult to catch people in the act.
But mounting statistical data, research, and fatalities have demonstrated that the dangers of driving while using a phone are too big to ignore. The ordinance is, in a sense, a symbolic way to try to get people to stop.
If approved by City Council on Oct. 30, the ordinance – brought to the committee by District 10 Councilmember Mike Gallagher – would take effect Jan. 1 with a 30-day grace period. Drivers cited in the month of January would be given a warning instead of a ticket.
Gallagher cited the Texas Department of Transportation in his op-ed piece published on the Rivard Report: “More than 90,000 crashes in 2012 were linked to distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concludes that a driver who is talking on a cellphone is 30 percent more likely to crash…Remember, driving is not a right – it is a privilege – and we owe it to other drivers on the road and ourselves to operate a vehicle in the safest manner.”
Committee members in attendance were supportive of Gallagher’s efforts – admitting that they themselves would have to make adjustments to their driving and cell phone use practices.
The committee is chaired by District 3 Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and includes Gallagher, District 5 Councilmember Shirley Gonzales, District 7 Councilmember Mari Aguirre-Rodriguez, and District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier, who was attending an out-of-town meeting.
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*Featured/top image: Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ricardo Velasquez.