Some people I know, not to mention any names Bob, just can’t seem to break the habit of texting while driving. Even though we justify it by saying we only send messages while stopped at lights, we still read messages while we’re moving. And then there are those strange situations in which we really need to send a message, but we hit every traffic light when it’s green. It never seems to happen when we’re in a hurry to get to our destination, but only when we actually need to stop for some reason. In those times we may type a message while driving. That’s just dumb.
Anyway, we can usually get away with doing that because our beloved Governor Perry vetoed a bill from the last Legislative session that would have outlawed texting while driving statewide. The reason he gave was that this was an infringement on personal responsibility, although he doesn’t seem to mind infringing on our personal responsibilities when it comes to issues such as tort reform.
Well, I got sidetracked. What I wanted to say is that drivers in Arlington need to get serious about stopping texting because the Arlington Police Department may get serious about enforcing that city’s ban on texting while driving. The law has been in effect for a year, but enforcement has been almost nonexistent until now.
A recent article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram (or the Startlegram, as some of us former newspaper employees refer to it) may stir the APD into cracking down on texting. Here are excerpts from the article:
In an effort to keep motorists focused on the road, Arlington last year became the first North Texas city to ban texting while driving. The ordinance, which went into effect after Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill creating a statewide ban, makes it a Class C misdemeanor with a $200 fine for drivers to use their phones for anything other than calls.
Since last Thanksgiving, when enforcement began, police have issued 49 citations to motorists seen looking at or handling their phones for an extended period, department officials said.
Just as important, police said, is that far more have received verbal warnings as part of a public education campaign.
“There has been a dialogue going on in the community between officers and citizens (that) we believe has led to safer roadways,” said Arlington police spokesman Sgt. Christopher Cook. “We applaud our citizens who have made the right choice to put down the telephone and focus on driving.”
More than 13 percent — 824 — of the 6,094 wrecks reported in Arlington from May 2010 to May 2011 were caused by distracted drivers, according to city documents. Four percent of the 824 crashes involved cellphones.
Statewide, statistics show that more than 81,000 crashes in 2011 involved some kind of distraction in the vehicle, driver inattention or cellphone use, and that 361 were fatal, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
In addition to media reports and meetings with community groups, Arlington police have worked to educate the public using digital signs in the entertainment district and other high-traffic areas. The signs tell drivers: “Don’t Text and Drive. In Arlington, it’s the law.”
“With 6.5 million visitors who come to Arlington each year, it has been important for us to make sure signage is placed in correct locations to remind drivers the city of Arlington has a strong stance when it comes to motorists texting while driving,” Cook said. “We want our visitors to be as safe as our citizens.”
Austin is the largest city in Texas that bans texting while driving. San Antonio and El Paso are among other Texas cities that have similar ordinances, but enforcement varies, according to handsfreeinfo.com, which promotes the use of hands-free cellphones.
El Paso appears to be on the high end, handing out 15,000 tickets in less than two years, according to a survey by the Houston television station KRPC/Channel 2.
Statewide, the only ban is on cellphone use in school zones.