Again and again, we see drivers distracted by cell phones or other hand-held electronic devices. This dangerous behavior has resulted in numerous deaths and injuries on streets and highways. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 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 cell phone is 30 percent more likely to crash.

The risk is increased even more when sending a text message, as it takes a driver’s eyes and hands away from the task of driving long enough to travel the length of a football field. This is a deadly time of distraction which endangers not only the driver, but his or her passengers and others navigating the roadways.

Fourteen states, as well as D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones. All are primary enforcement laws whereby an officer can cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense occurring. The first ban on texting and driving was enacted in 2007 and there are now a total of 44 states that have implemented the same ban. More than 20 cities in Texas, including San Antonio, have some form of texting ban.

Although many people in San Antonio don’t know it, an ordinance was established in 2010 prohibiting the use of a hand-held mobile device (except for dialing telephone numbers or talking to another person) while operating a vehicle and provides a fine of up to $200 per violation. The distracted driver problem is greater than using mobile communication devices, but the point of pursuing a hands-free ordinance is to make sure drivers operate more safely.

Since the City-wide ban began, there have been more than 1,900 accidents attributed to distracted driving related to the use of hand-held mobile devices. Of that total, six were fatal and 28 were incapacitating. The San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) has issued 7,038 citations to drivers using hand-held mobile devices since 2009.

While the City took a step in the right direction with the Distracted Driving Ordinance, I believe there is more we can do to improve public safety and reduce the distracted driving hazard. That is why I have requested that City staff examine the current ordinance related to the ban on the use of hand-held mobile communication devices and add a provision stating that they may only be used in a “hands-free” capacity unless in an emergency situation.

The intent of this amendment to the ordinance is to curb distracted driving as well as to provide SAPD with a better ability to enforce the ban on hand-held mobile communication devices while driving city-wide.

As distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic throughout the nation, Council would certainly make the roadways of San Antonio a safer place for everyone if a hand-held device ban were implemented. Such a ban would not infringe on anyone’s rights, rather it would serve to improve public safety.

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.

*Featured/top image: Texting while driving. Public domain photo.

Editor’s note: This story was republished with permission from District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher’s office.

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Mike Gallagher represents District 10 on the San Antonio City Council.