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Austin Council moves forward with ban on texting while driving
Friday, August 28, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham
The Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that would prohibit driving a car and texting on a mobile communications device. The ban also covers other mobile device activities that don’t include GPS maps and actually speaking on the phone. The resolution also asks that a buffer zone for bicycle riders on roadways be included in the ordinance.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike
Despite what he called “common sense” not to text and drive,
Dr. Mason Jones testified in favor of such an ordinance and choked up as he told those in Council Chambers how his family had been at a complete stop and was rear ended by a young woman going 70 miles per hour while texting. The collision caused several fractures to the skull of his 3-year son, who had to be airlifted to the hospital. He said his son has since recovered.
There were some concerns from the community about enforcement and representatives from Texans for Accountable Government and the ACLU both spoke to council about that issue. Debbie Russell, president of the local chapter of the ACLU, said the problem wasn’t with civil liberties but with enforcement. She brought up a recent quote from an APD spokesman who said there were problems with enforcement of such an ordinance. Russell said other jurisdictions that have enacted such bans have also run into enforcement difficulties, and questioned whether
APD Chief Art Acevedo said 70 percent of people would obey the law “just because that’s the nature of people.” He added that even having the law on the books would start a conversation about the dangers of texting while driving and thus benefit road safety. As for enforcement, the chief said, “Our officers would be able to enforce this by just watching someone. People are so inattentive…” Acevedo said it would be difficult to enforce the law against people who are able to hide their actions well, but that those who are intently tapping away at their phone would be more oblivious, and those were exactly the kind of potential dangers the ordinance would seek to curb.
The new ordinance would also create a “safe passing zone” for bicycles which
However, Riley said the primary audience was drivers, who hopefully would learn to “exercise better judgment.” He said other critics charged that cyclists did not follow the rules themselves. Riley said that most riders do tend to be courteous but added that if roads are perceived to be dangerous then “daredevil types” would make up a higher portion of bicyclists using the roadway. “If you can make the roads safer, I guarantee you, we’ll get a broader section of riders.”
Mark Stine with Bike
Council Member Randi Shade told the council that in a recent meeting with Acevedo she was told the city had more text-related accidents than DWIs now.
Council Member Sheryl Cole acknowledged the dangers of texting while driving but wanted to know whether the law would enable law enforcement to use the ordinance to pull over minorities for “pretext stops.” The legal department informed her that the reasons for all stops are required by state law to be documented and turned in.
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