ARLINGTON -- After Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill to combat texting while driving, some elected officials are preparing to move forward in seeking a ban in Arlington.
Mayor Robert Cluck and District 3 Councilman Robert Rivera want the City Council to consider an ordinance that would make it a Class C misdemeanor for drivers who are caught sending or reading text messages, browsing the Internet or playing online games on their cellphones.
Cluck said he would even consider banning drivers from talking on cellphones except for hands-free and voice-activated models.
"Distracted driving is a dangerous thing, just like driving while intoxicated," Cluck said. "You are putting yourself and others in danger by not totally focusing on the road."
While Perry agreed that "texting while driving is reckless and irresponsible," he wrote in his veto statement that House Bill 242, which would have banned texting while driving across the state, was a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults."
State laws prohibits drivers under 18 from using cellphones. The key to dissuading drivers from texting is public education, not state law, Perry said.
Arlington wouldn't be the first Texas city to put the brakes on distracted driving through fines. Austin, San Antonio and El Paso are among the cities with ordinances prohibiting texting while driving.
At least five of the nine Arlington council members would have to vote for such an ordinance for it to become law.
The council is expected to hold a public discussion on the topic in August after members return from their July break.
"This issue impacts everyone in the community, not only drivers and passengers but pedestrians," Rivera said. "What we are talking about is preventing preventable accidents."
Police Chief Theron Bowman told council members in April that it would be difficult for officers to determine whether drivers were violating the law.
Some residents say they support giving police the ability to pull over motorists they see driving recklessly while on their phones.
"If you are stopped at a red light, it's one thing to glance at it. If you are in the process of driving, it can wait," said Glenda Minor, who has warned her two teenage drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. "We make rules to protect public safety and people's personal safety. Sometimes it takes a specific law to get people to take something seriously."
Resident Michael Frame said he was disappointed that Perry vetoed the anti-texting bill and supports the city's proposed ban, though he said not texting while driving should be common sense.
"I drove for many, many years when they didn't even have cellphones," Frame said. "It's not the end of the world."
But not everyone agrees that a law is necessary. Juan Valdez, 18, said he usually waits for a red light to send a text message and has seen friends regularly text or talk on cellphones, without any problems, while driving. "They know how to drive," Valdez said.
Tough action sought
Both Cluck and Rivera acknowledge that extra regulations would annoy or anger some drivers, but they believe that more needs to be done to make the streets safer.
"Our rule is going to be tough. You won't be able to text. You won't be able to read text messages, and eventually you will not be able to talk on your phone unless it's hands-free," Cluck said last week at the League of Women Voters' annual State of the City luncheon. "It's going to make some people upset."
Between November 2009 and November 2010, 865 of the 5,624 traffic wrecks reported in Arlington were caused by distracted drivers, Assistant City Attorney Kathleen Weisskopf told council members in April. Of those, 5 percent were linked to cellphones.
"It's a very serious matter," Rivera said. "The city has to put our officers and firefighters in harm's way to respond to these preventable accidents."
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639