North Texas Daily

Denton bans use of handheld devices while driving

Denton bans use of handheld devices while driving

May 31
15:43 2017

Alexander Willis | Staff Writer

A new ordinance will go into effect June 1 that prohibits drivers from using a handheld device for any purpose while operating a motor vehicle in Denton. The ordinance is stricter than previous laws concerning phone usage while driving.

Violation of the new ordinance will be considered a Class C misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $500.

The ordinance does not ban the use of GPS units, including mobile devices that are mounted inside the vehicle. The ordinance also allows for the use of hands-free devices, such as a Bluetooth headset. Phone docks and hands-free devices are readily available ranging from $10 to $30 and can help Denton drivers avoid fines.

Exceptions include using a handheld device to seek emergency assistance or to report an emergency, though it’s recommended drivers pull their vehicle to the side of the road and only do so when safe.

While previous Denton laws governing phone usage were restricted to texting, this new ordinance bans all usage of handheld communications devices, including voice calls. Drivers may still answer or terminate a voice call while using a hands-free system.

“The [previous] policies were harder to enforce,” said Brian Cose, Denton Police Department spokesman. “It was difficult to prove someone was actually texting.”

Accidents caused by distracted drivers using handheld devices have been a cause for concern for years. The National Safety Council, a nonprofit public service organization, reports on average 1.6 million crashes per year are directly caused by cellphone use.

Teens are more prone to distracted driving habits, with on average 11 teen deaths directly attributed to texting while driving a year. The National Safety Council also reports a total of 3,154 deaths in 2013 caused by distraction-related crashes.

The ordinance is not without its critics, however.

Voted on in December 2016 by the Denton City Council, the ordinance passed with a 6-1 vote, with Council member Sara Bagheri being the only member opposed. Council member Gerard Hudspeth of District 1, who was just elected this May, is also critical of the ordinance and said in its current form he would not have voted for it.

“Why wouldn’t you include all distractions, or more distractions?” Hudspeth said. “Why didn’t [they] include pets? Is it because it’s not as easy as a target?”

Hudspeth called the previous laws concerning phone usage while driving “enforceable” and argued that a straight fine does little to change behavior, suggesting community service as a better method.

While teens and young adults are often at the center of distraction-related accidents, a large number of UNT students support the ordinance.

“I think it’s a good thing,” music senior Jacob Nydegger said. “I’m from San Antonio, and they’ve already implemented something similar there. It’s distracting, and I’ve definitely seen too many people using their phone while driving already.”

Some students would like to see the restrictions on phone usage while driving become even stricter.

“I think ear pieces should go too,” computer science junior Matthew Greene said. “Anything that takes your focus off the road should go. All the time I see people not reacting to green lights when they’re at a stop.”

Other students, like computer engineering sophomore Udeeka Weerasinghe believe the new penalty is a bit steep.

“Sometimes I’m just changing a song on my phone, so $500 is a bit much in my opinion,” Weerasinghe said.

Featured Image: Handheld devices are banned under the new ordinance that seeks to increase road safety by limiting when people can and cannot use their electronic devices on the road. Jake King

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James Norman

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