Council Approves Texting-While-Driving Ban
In a unanimous vote, texting while driving became illegal in West University Place on Dec. 7, but drivers probably won’t be prosecuted until after the New Year. Coincidentally, the City of Bellaire passed identical legislation just a couple hours later.
With a last-minute change to make it clear that drivers can’t whip out their cell phones and text while waiting at red lights, the West U. City Council approved a citywide texting-while-driving ban.
“Your eyes should be on the road waiting for you to go if the light changes,” said Councilman Steven Segal, who proposed the change. He added later: “We’re doing something, why not do it right?”
The new law makes it illegal for drivers to send texts, write emails or surf the web “while operating a motor vehicle in a driving lane.” The revision will prohibit drivers from texting while at red lights, stop signs or while stopped in a lane for any other reason.
“If it were me and I were the judge, I would say you are operating a motor vehicle,” said Mayor Bob Kelly. Kelly argued early on that the council should make it clear that people could not text unless they were pulled to the side of the road, out of traffic.
Drivers can still make phone calls while driving, send texts while pulled to the side of the road, communicate in any way with emergency personnel, and send messages if they fear for their lives.
“I most certainly agree with the thrust of this,” said Councilman George Boehme. “I think the difficulty is with defining [driving lane].”
Police Chief Ken Walker said staff should examine other city ordinances to determine how “driving lane” is defined. The council may need to make changes to make the definition uniform across the code, he said.
“I’m not 100 percent sure there’s a conflict, I just want to make sure there is not,” Walker said.
Although the ordinance states that the ban goes into effect immediately, by law the city is required to publish a notice in a newspaper and then wait 10 days before the law is effective, said City Attorney Alan Petrov. Walker said the police department doesn’t intend to enforce the new law until the city can install signs informing drivers that texting while driving is illegal.
“Hopefully the citizens won’t text while they drive, and that will be the end of it,” Segal said.
The Bellaire City Council on Dec. 7 also approved the exact texting-while-driving ban. Petrov is also the city attorney there, and he proposed a draft ordinance that was based on a law that the City of Austin passed earlier this fall. Petrov included revisions that the West U. City Council had made during meetings in November.
During Monday’s meeting, Petrov informed the Bellaire council of the last-minute change to the West U. law that also made it illegal for drivers to text while waiting at red lights and stop signs. After some discussion, the Bellaire council decided to adopt that change as well.