Council Votes To Illegalize Texting While Driving

November 9, 2009

Five television crews crowded the back wall of the City Council Chambers on Monday to witness the council voting unanimously for a citywide ban on texting while driving.

The council’s action makes big news as local governments across the nation address the dangers of texting while driving, which some studies have compared to driving while intoxicated.

News media from five TV stations interview Police Chief Ken Walker about the city's texting ban.

News media from five TV stations interview Police Chief Ken Walker about the city's texting ban.

“Back when I was a kid, this would be like outlawing having a typewriter in the car driving down the street,” said Councilman George Boehme. “It’s hard for me to vote for things like this. But this is common sense.”

The council must still approve the ordinance one more time for the law to become effective. If approved, the law would ban texting, emailing or surfing the web while driving anywhere in the city. Drivers could still make phone calls while driving, and send electronic messages while stopped. Calling 911 would be allowed at any time. Making phone calls in school zones would still be prohibited unless the driver used a hands-free device.

Councilman Steven Segal proposed the citywide texting ban in mid September, and the council asked city staff to draft the ordinance.

At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Bob Kelly played a video on YouTube that showed three teenage girls giggling while riding in a car. While the driver focused on sending flirty, silly text messages to a boyfriend, the car drifted into the left lane and collided head-on with oncoming traffic.

What followed were graphic scenes of the three girls being bounced around the car like ping pong balls, blood flowing while they sustained life-threatening injuries. At this point, City Manager Michael Ross stopped the video.

“We have a phenomenal number of young people who are coming of age now being able to drive,” Kelly said. “It’s a concern enough with that many young drivers … without having the fact they may be text messaging while they’re out there driving too.”

Police Chief Ken Walker presented information that he said shows that using mobile devices while driving reduces the driver’s ability to operate a car safely and increases the time it takes to respond to dangerous traffic situations.

“Driving and using these devices is the same thing as driving while intoxicated,” Walker said, citing a study by the New England Journal of Medicine.

West U. resident Jo Schorp shook her head in the audience when the council passed the texting ban. She said she heard about the vote on the morning news she came to the meeting strait from work to see what would happen.

“I don’t text message anything in my car at all. I agree with Mr. Boehme that it is common sense,” Schorp said. “It’s not the issue of whether you allow it or not, it’s how you enforce it. How much is this going to cost us?”

Debbie Shepler, who lives on Arnold Street in West U., said she disagrees with the idea that government should make laws against things like texting while driving. She clapped out loud when Boehme said early in the meeting that “we have entirely too many laws.”

“They’re not allowing people to use their common sense,” Shepler said.

“They ought to legislate against women fixing their hair, putting on makeup, and men using their razors,” she said about other driving distractions. “There are so many things.”

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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