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Denton city council reaches no decision on texting ban pending further review

Denton city council reaches no decision on texting ban pending further review

Denton city council reaches no decision on texting ban pending further review
November 03
13:38 2016

Denton city council voted down an ordinance targeting handheld devices while driving 6 to 1 Tuesday. They argued more time should be devoted to the language of the ordinance. 

The existing texting ban, passed in 2014, applies to public roads except interstate highways and prohibits the use of  wireless communication devices while driving. Failure to comply can result in a fine of $200. As of today, a hand-free device is defined as a device with speakerphone capability or a telephone attachment to another piece of equipment and proved to be contentious at Tuesday’s meeting. 

The council brought up issues regarding the ordinance, including its ambiguous definition, lack of clarity for the public and its difficulty to enforce. Denton police chief Lee Howell said 87 crashes have been attributed to the use of a wireless devices and three have been fatal, resulting in the death of seven people. The current 2014 ordinance, council argued, is not enough. 

“Our goal is to further decrease distractions,” Howell said.

James Shaffer, a Denton resident spoke at the meeting about his personal stake to the ordinance. Shaffer lost his wife and child in a car accident after being struck by a 24-year-old driver who was on her phone at the wheel. It is the increase in deaths due to wireless devices that has put this ordinance at the top of the council’s list.

Council member Sara Bagheri commented on the distinction between holding the device and a non-handheld device. The main goal is to limit distracted driving but both a handheld device and hands-free device, she argued, still distracts drivers. Bagheri would like to have the ordinance clarified before it is passed. 

Council member Keely Briggs also brought up the issue of its enforceability and believes that the current ordinance will not do what it is intended to do, an issue council member Kathleen Wazny concurs. 

“It should be handheld device instead of hands free ordinance so it is more enforceable,” Briggs said.  

“It’s hard to enforce something [the police] cannot see,” said Wazny. “They see someone holding a phone and they will stop them but it’s difficult to figure out all the time and becomes hard to enforce. We have all these new apps to play on and you’ll see people on their phone—the passengers and drivers too— and it’s just dangerous.”

The ordinance and its predecessor, the texting ban, have created a gap of ambiguity that needs to be defined for the police force as well as the public before it can be issued, Briggs said. Currently, the texting ban is held up by police catching someone looking down or seeing a bright light reflected from the vehicle’s windows.

“I encourage the council to contact legal to get clarifications to clear up the language [of the ordinance before passage],” Wazny said.

Wazny proposed a final vote set to be held Dec. 6. The issue, she said, is between the distracted driving and the usage of handheld devices.

“It is one in the same,” Wazny said. “Cell phones are one of the biggest causes for distracted driving. Technology is great but automobiles can kill someone. We want to make the ordinance crystal clear before we vote on it again because it is important for us to define it to the best of our abilities.”

Wazny said she understands the importance and necessity of phones inside a vehicle. They can provide Bluetooth connectivity and satellite navigation, but she said not being careful can result in serious consequences.

“It takes just a second and someone can end up dead or maimed for life,” said Wazny. “We want to provide the police department the tools they ask for in order to help promote traffic safety. All it takes is a second.”

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Sadia Saeed

Sadia Saeed

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