City bans phones while driving

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 Photo illustration by E. David Guel

Photo illustration by E. David Guel

Violations can cost up to $200.

By Adriana Ruiz

aruiz@alamo.edu 

It will be illegal to drive while using any hand-held devices starting Jan. 1, according to an ordinance approved by the San Antonio City Council Nov. 6.

According to the hands-free ordinance, “A person commits an offense if the person uses a hand-held mobile communication device to engage in a call, send, read or write a text message, view pictures or written text whether transmitted by internet or other electronic means, engage in gaming, or engage in any other use of the device while operating a moving motor vehicle.”

Public Information Officer Douglas Greene said over the past few years the city has experienced many minor and major accidents resulting from a distraction by the use of a cellphone.

He said a 2010 ordinance prohibited texting and driving but the city wanted to take it a step further.

“We wanted people to take their hands off their phone and focus more on the road,” Greene said. “Hence, this new ordinance which is not prohibiting people from talking on the phone at all; it’s just that they can’t talk on the phone by having one hand on the device.”

He said people need a hands-free device or have their phone on speaker. That way people can focus a little bit more on the road.

Greene said at the start of 2015, officers will issue warnings and possibly information pamphlets on safe driving and the new ordinance.

“It’s all in an effort to make the roads and freeways here in San Antonio a little bit more safer from distracted drivers,” he said.

Greene said passing the new ordinance would make it easier for officers to enforce the law because talking on the phone is not as discrete as texting and driving.

“It’s tough to enforce that when it is texting, but it’s pretty obvious now with this new ordinance when you’re driving by and you see someone with a phone up to their ear. So automatically there is no kind of excuse on the violation,” he said. “Obviously, it makes it easier for police to see someone on the phone.”

Greene said if an officer sees someone driving while talking on the phone, the officer could either give a warning citation or a ticket.

A violation would cost a driver a maximum of $200.

Texas prohibits the use of cellphones if the driver is under 18, in a school zone, operating a school a bus while children are present or has had a driving permit for less than six months.

Greene said the city does not have any plans to ban other driver distractions — eating or drinking, grooming, talking to passengers, reading, watching a video, adjusting the radio or using navigation systems — because the main focus is limiting the use of cellphones.

“Overall, one of the main points of this ordinance is to get the point across that people need to be a little bit more focused whether they are on the phone or not.  They need to pay attention when they are driving,” Greene said.

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