Two public meetings will be held in the coming weeks for City Council to receive citizen input on a proposed ordinance that would ban texting while driving.
The meetings will be held at the following times and locations:
• Monday, July 20 at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium of Abell Junior High (3201 Heritage Blvd.)
• Monday, August 3 at 6 p.m. in the Auditorium of the MLK Jr. Community Center (2300 Butternut Lane)
These meetings will be held before a second and final vote is made by City Council on the proposed ordinance, which is expected to take place in August.
The drafted ordinance states that “a driver of a motor vehicle, other than an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle acting within the scope of his or her official capacity, shall not use a wireless communication device to view, send, or compose an electronic message, or engage other application software [apps] while operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway.”
The proposed ordinance incorporates much of House Bill 80, which was proposed and authored by State Representative Tom Craddick in the most recent session of the Texas Legislature but failed to pass.
The proposed ordinance applies to mobile phones, tablets and laptops. The ordinance could go into effect on Oct. 1 if passed, and failure to comply could result in a $500 fine. Ordinances require two passing votes by City Council before going into effect.
Exceptions to the ordinance as it is currently drafted include when a phone is being used…
…while the vehicle was completely stopped at a location other than in a traffic lane on a public roadway;
…strictly to engage in a telephone conversation, including dialing or deactivating the call;
…solely as a global positioning or navigation system;
…to contact police, fire, or emergency medical personnel in order to report a traffic accident, medical emergency, serious traffic hazard, or crime in progress, or to prevent a crime that the driver reasonably believed was about to be committed;
…in the reasonable belief that a person’s life or safety was in immediate danger;
…if the device was permanently installed inside the vehicle; or
…in conjunction with voice-operated technology, a push-to-talk function, or a hands-free device.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. How will officers enforce this ordinance, if passed?
If an officer sees a driver handling a wireless communication device and can articulate what he or she observed that caused him or her to reasonably infer that the driver was texting or using application software, then the officer will have probable cause to stop the driver and issue a citation.
If a driver tells an officer that he or she was dialing a phone number, it will be in the officer’s discretion whether to issue a citation. Any defenses the driver believes he or she has after a citation is issued can be brought to trial.
2. Would the ordinance apply on roads outside city limits?
3. Will officers have to follow the same rules? What about their laptops?
If the officer is operating an authorized emergency vehicle and acting within the scope of his or her official capacity, then the law will not apply regardless of the type of wireless communication device used (e.g., cell phone, laptop, etc.). Otherwise, the officer will be subject to the law like anyone else.
4. If I am stopped for texting while driving, can the police look at or go through my phone?
The proposed ordinance explicitly prohibits a peace officer who stops a motor vehicle for texting and driving from taking possession of or inspecting a phone for the purposes of determining the violation.
5. Do other laws already prevent texting and driving? What about “distracted driving?”
Texas does not have a statute that generally prohibits “distracted driving.” The sections of the Texas Transportation Code that are commonly referred to as “distracted driving laws” address only the use of wireless communication devices. The Transportation Code does not address other potential distractions (e.g., tuning stereos, grooming, eating).
Section 545.424(a) prohibits a person under 18 years of age from operating a motor vehicle while using a wireless communication device, except in an emergency. Subsection (b) prohibits a person under 17 years of age who holds a restricted motorcycle license or moped license from operating a motorcycle or moped while using a wireless communication device, except in an emergency.
Section 545.425(b) prohibits a person from using a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle in a school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped or a hands-free device is used. Subsection (c) prohibits a person from using a wireless communication device while operating a passenger bus with a minor passenger on the bus unless the bus is stopped.
Section 545.4252(b) prohibits a person from using a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle on the property of a public elementary, middle, junior high, or high school during the time that a reduced speed limit is in effect for the school’s designated school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped or a hands-free device is used.
The punishment for an offense under any of these sections is a fine no greater than $200.
These are separate and distinct offenses from Reckless Driving under Section 545.401. Section 545.401(a) reads, “A person commits an offense if the person drives a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The punishment for Reckless Driving is a fine no greater than $200, confinement in jail for up to 30 days, or both a fine and confinement.