In 2009, Austin became the first municipality in the state of Texas to ban texting while driving on a city-wide basis. The law went into effect January 1, 2010, and to most people, it sounded like a good idea. Apparently, however, the ban hasn’t proved to be the panacea some expected, and this week, city officials are again reminding drivers of the restriction.
The primary problem faced in this area is enforcement. It’s difficult enough for police to spot someone inside a vehicle and determine that he or she is sending or viewing a text message or other electronic communication. It is even more difficult given the language of the ordinance, which does not prohibit the use of cell phones and related devices for some other purposes. The ordinance, § 12-1-34, reads, in pertinent part:
“(A) A driver of a motor vehicle may not use a wireless communication device to view, send, or compose an electronic message or engage other application software while operating a motor vehicle.
(B) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution of an offense under this section if a wireless communications device is used:
(1) while the vehicle is stopped;
(2) strictly to engage in a telephone conversation, including dialing or deactivating the call;
(3) as a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the vehicle;
(4) for obtaining emergency assistance to report a traffic accident, medical emergency, or serious traffic hazard, or to prevent a crime about to be committed;
(5) in the reasonable belief that a person’s life or safety is in immediate danger;
(6) if the device is permanently installed inside the vehicle; or
(7) solely in a voice-activated or other hands-free mode.”
A simple example demonstrates the point. You can’t text, but you can dial someone’s telephone number on a cell phone. How is a police officer to tell if a driver is pressing numbers to call someone or pressing letters for a text? Pretty difficult, if not impossible, we think. The fact remains, though, that there are 100,000 accidents each year that are blamed on texting while driving.
A violation of the Austin ordinance is a class C misdemeanor, and a conviction could lead to a fine of up to $500. And with the current news pointing to increasing attempts at enforcement, we remind our readers to be careful with those cell phones.
Law Office of David D. White, PLLC
1205 Rio Grande Street
Austin, TX 78701