By Lauren Donovan
Texas will soon join 46 other states in implementing a statewide ban on texting while driving. This bill will only prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel, but still allows drivers to use their phones for navigation and taking calls. San Marcos passed a similar ordinance in March 2016, but with stiffer regulations. The local ordinance restricts all cell phone usage behind the wheel, unless the device is in a hands-free mode. Chase Stapp, San Marcos Police Chief, says the new ban would take priority over city laws.
“Right now the stricter of the two is still the city ordinance, but there is a topic that will be on the special session coming up for the Texas Legislature which would preempt city ordinances,” Stapp said. “That would basically force us to repeal our ordinance.”
According to Governor Greg Abbott, in order to avoid confusion about different laws from city to city, local ordinances would become null under the state ban. This part of the bill has been the most controversial because of the lax rules compared to local ordinances. Chief Stapp says this makes the ban difficult to enforce.
“We built in a presumption to the ordinance,” Stapp said. “If an officer sees you driving a vehicle in motion and the phone is in your hand, there is a presumption that you are using it in violation of the ordinance.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2015, 3,477 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers. Under the new state ban, violators will be charged a fine below $100 on the first offense. Some lawmakers see this as a step in the right direction towards savings lives, but others are afraid it does not go far enough to restrict drivers from being distracted. The statewide ban is expected to go into effect September 1st, 2017.
Featured image by Lauren Donovan.