September 13, 2011

Arlington council votes to bar texting while driving

The City Council adopts the ordinance on a split vote.

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ARLINGTON -- Motorists will get a couple of months to break their texting-while-driving habit before the tickets begin.

By 5-4 vote Tuesday, the Arlington City Council officially adopted an ordinance that makes it a Class C misdemeanor for drivers to use their cellphones for anything other than phone calls.

After a public education period, a motorist could face a $200 fine if caught texting, tweeting or using other online applications at the wheel.

Police expect to begin enforcement sometime before Thanksgiving, police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said. An official date will be announced later.

"People will have to make a conscious decision not to do so because it's become second nature for so many," Richard said. "Before enforcement starts, everyone needs to start putting their phones down."

Council members Mel LeBlanc, Jimmy Bennett and Sheri Capehart voted against the ordinance for a second time.

Bennett questioned whether officers could determine whether a motorist was sending a text message or an e-mail or was dialing or scrolling through contacts to find a phone number, which would be legal.

"I continue to hear from most citizens the acknowledgment of a problem," Bennett said about the obvious dangers of distracted driving. "The question remains, however, how the city government should respond to that."

Officers would stop motorists only if they had probable cause that a violation had occurred, Assistant Police Chief Will Johnson said.

"If an officer sees an activity they believe is in violation of the law, they may ask you for clarification about what you are doing," Johnson said when asked whether officers will ask to examine a driver's cellphone.

In addition to education through the media and community groups, the city will begin installing signs at gateways to the city and along major thoroughfares.

The signs will inform motorists that "Arlington is a city where texting and driving is not allowed," Richard said.

Austin and San Antonio also ban texting while driving. Arlington already bans the use of cellphones in active school zones.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

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