City ordinance bans cell phones behind the wheel

Alex Babu, biology senior, holds her phone while driving. Photo by Arianna Davis

Wichita Falls City Council members unanimously passed an ordinance banning the use of cell phones while driving inside city limits on Feb. 21. The ban went into effect March 23. Drivers are still allowed to use hands-free devices including speaker phone or Bluetooth.

“My understanding is that if this is violated, the consequence includes a fine up to $500 in city court,” Patrick Coggins, chief of police, said.

According to Texas Department of Transportation, one in five crashes involves distracted drivers. Drivers that use their cell phones while operating a vehicle are at a higher risk of collision than those who don’t.

Although Texas has no statewide law banning the use of cell phones while driving just yet, many local areas prohibited the use of cell phones while on the road.

Keri Corsaut, pre-pharmacy junior, gave her opinion as to what she agrees and disagrees with regarding the ordinance.

“I’m very much aware of the new law and I do agree with the no texting and driving part,” she said. “As far as the new rules with talking on the phone while driving I completely disagree with because it’s not giving Americans their normal freedom. I just don’t see the difference of talking on the phone while holding it or using hands-free, it can both be just as distracting.”

According to Coggins, the main purpose of this law is to generate more safe drivers on the road without the distraction of electronics.

“I see this being valuable because it forces people to put their phones down and pay more attention to driving,” Coggins said.

However, Coggins doesn’t believe that people will suddenly stop texting and driving.

“I’m not so naïve as to believe that texting and driving won’t continue,” he said. “There’s still going to be a certain proportion that will do it. Unfortunately for them, they’ll continue to be distracted drivers and suffer the consequences. City officials are responsible for all components of this because it is not applicable on state university campuses.”

Although there will be drivers opposing or arguing the new law, Coggins said it is necessary for the safety of all drivers.

“I don’t think there is any downside to this law. Most people these days carry a device that is capable of being a hands-free device whether that is speaker phone or Bluetooth, which is allowed according to the ordinance requirements,” Coggins said. “With that technology being available I don’t think it will be a significant inconvenience to people. The intent is to reduce incidents of distracted driving as well as accidents, if anything it’ll secure safety.”

According to Dail Neely, student conduct director, the enforcement of this law is to keep drivers safe is something he’s looking forward to.

“I’m excited for this law to be enforced. It’s important to establish safety on the roads,” Neely said. “I’m a cyclist and the thing with riding a bike up next to a car is you can actually see into the car and most of the time the driver is usually texting and driving, which can be scary for us cyclists in the other lane.”

To inform all drivers of the ordinance, notifications are being sent out and posted near city limits.

“The city has sent out notifications using a Nixel service that alerts people who are subscribed to it about this new law. It’s also being advertised around town on billboards,” Coggins said. “As far as informing the students, I sent out an email the end of the week prior to all faculty, staff and students notifying them of this going into effect and providing them with a direct link to the text of the law.”

However, Corsaut said there is no effective answer to prevent distracted driving.

“I don’t necessarily think there is a sufficient way to prevent it. People will continue to do it no matter the law because cell phones are an addiction these days,” she said.

Although the effectiveness of this law may be questionable, Neel believes it can provide better education.

“I hope it will be effective. However, at the end of the day drivers are still going to text and drive and put others in harms way,” Neel said. “It will surely be effective in providing better education in driver’s ed courses and towards those kids trying to receive a license because they’ll have to be aware of the new law before heading out on the road. I also learned that the fine for violation here is double as much as the fine in Austin so I think that might play a big factor in drivers deciding whether to risk it or not.”

Neel also said it’s important for drivers to exercise their right to hands-free devices or even simply keep the phone out of sight.

“Put the cell phone out of reach. It’s so tempting to check a text or phone call if it’s anywhere near you, but if you place it somewhere you can’t get a hold of, then you’re putting yourself and others in a safe position,” he said.

Although drivers put themselves in dangerous positions while texting and driving, Corsaut believes it could be even more so of an issue by trying to hide it and beat the system.

“I would hope drivers know how unsafe it is in general,” she said. “But for example, my dad texts and drives all the time and he knows he’s bad about it but does it anyway. So anybody that’s going to do it will continue to do it, they’re just going to hide it more which could be more dangerous.”

Laramie Walton, Legacy Hall resident assistant, sees this ban to be more on the negative side and the effectiveness of this ordinance will be limited for students living on or near campus considering the city is partially a college town.

“The accidents might decrease but I don’t expect it to actually decrease,” Walton said. “I suspect that the City of Wichita Falls will definitely gain some decent revenue from the fine of up to $500 plus court costs for violation of this.”

Corsaut believes the ordinance won’t necessarily be followed by younger drivers opposed to older drivers.

“I say that because I’m a much older student and the younger students in my class have practically grown up with cellphones and it’s pretty much second nature to them,” she said. “As for me I was an adult before smartphones even came out it, so I know more on how to survive without it even while driving.”

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