Sugar Land City Council passed an ordinance Feb. 21 banning use of portable electronic devices such as cell phones, pagers or laptop computers while driving unless the device is hands-free or is being used in an emergency. The ordinance takes effect on March 20, 2017. After that, drivers who disobey the law will receive warnings for the next 90 days. But after those 90 days, drivers will be ticketed and fined up to $500 for each offense. Council members had noted too many people weaving across roads because they were distracted by portable devices they were operating while driving. Some studies show that persons talking by phone while driving are equally distracted whether using a hands-free device or not, but operating a portable device certainly can contribute to poor driving.
Distracted Driving Injures, Kills
Thousands of Americans each year or injured or killed in auto accidents caused by distracted drivers sending texts, doing video chats or making phone calls while at the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2014 alone 3,179 persons were killed and 431,000 persons were injured in motor vehicle crashes
involving distracted drivers.
Texas Cities Fight Back With Ordinances
While Texas lacks a law banning texting while driving — unlike 46 other states — Texas municipalities can set their own traffic ordinances to curtail distracted driving. Sugar Land officials had been considering the ordinance passed recently as early as 2015. Even before that, many Texas municipalities had passed related laws. Both San Antonio and Austin passed laws which went into effect in 2015 making it illegal for drivers to use any handheld device to call, text, use the Internet or do anything else while at the wheel. According to the Texas Department of Transportation
, Texas cities which have at least outlawed texting while driving include Amarillo, Arlington, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Denton, Galveston, Missouri City, Conroe, Bellaire, West University Place, Brownsville, McAllen, Grand Prairie, Harlingen, Laredo, Nacogdoches and Tomball. In fact, TxDOT reports that over 90 Texas cities have adopted ordinances restricting cell phone use in some way while driving. These cities do not include Houston or Dallas, but they do include the Houston area’s Bellaire, Conroe and Deer Park, and the Dallas area’s Lake Dallas, along with the municipalities mentioned above. TxDOT says there are three types of such ordinances:
- Bans on all uses of wireless communications devices while driving
- Bans on texting while driving
- Bans on texting and other manual uses of wireless communication devices while driving — that is, bans on handheld devices, versus hands-free devices
Fines can range from $200 to $500.
Hands-Free or Handheld?
Clearly, such common-sense laws are needed. TxDOT reports that 20 per cent of all traffic crashes involve distracted driving. TxDOT also says drivers using cell phones at the wheel “have a higher risk of collision than drivers who don’t, whether holding the phone or using a hands-free device.” That means Sugar Land’s new ban won’t necessarily solve all distracted driving, since simply talking by phone, even with a hands-free device, is distracting. But compelling people not to hold phones while driving is a start. Jim Adler & Associates urges all Texans to take this simple advice: Hang up and drive. Your life and others’ may depend on it.