ARLINGTON -- A $200 text message?
That could be the case if the Arlington City Council adopts an ordinance banning motorists from using their cellphones for anything other than phone calls while behind the wheel.
Residents have a chance to weigh in the proposed ordinance, which would make it a Class C misdemeanor for drivers to text, tweet or use other online applications on their cellphones, during a public hearing Tuesday night. If the ordinance is approved after two readings, violators could face a $200 fine after a 30-day public education campaign.
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck and District 3 council member Robert Rivera have pushed for stricter rules to help reduce traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers.
But not all council members support the proposed texting-while-driving ban, saying it would be difficult for Arlington police to tell whether drivers were dialing their phone or typing a message.
"Almost everyone agrees that this form of distracted driving is problematic. At the same time, the citizens have raised concerns of enforceability, as I have," said at-large council member Jimmy Bennett, adding that some residents also see it as too much government intrusion.
"It would be extremely subjective for a police officer to be able to determine what specific way that a cellphone is being used," he said.
Council member Mel LeBlanc agreed during a discussion on the proposed ordinance earlier this month, saying "If you ban texting, you've got to ban cellphones as far as I'm concerned."
Between May 2010 and May 2011, 824 of the 6,094 wrecks reported in Arlington were caused by distracted drivers, according to city documents. Four percent of the distraction-linked wrecks involved cellphones.
Both Arlington Police Chief Theron Bowman and Assistant City Attorney Kathleen Weisskopf have told council members it would be easier for police to determine whether there was a violation if the city had a total ban on motorists using hand-held cellphones, like the city of El Paso, instead of a partial ban.
Bennett said he can see why.
"You are placing an officer in a position of being subjective," he said. "It's not the same thing as witnessing the running of a red light or other moving violations."
Arlington bans the use of hand-held cellphones in active school zones.
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578