ARLINGTON -- Police issued only four tickets to drivers in Arlington caught texting or using the Internet on their cellphones while behind the wheel between Nov. 25 and Monday, officials said Tuesday.
Arlington police began enforcing the city's new texting-and-driving ban on Thanksgiving.
The ordinance makes it a Class C misdemeanor for drivers to use their cellphones for anything other than phone calls.
Drivers on Arlington streets seen "manipulating a phone for an extended period of time" -- whether checking e-mails, texting, tweeting or using other Internet-based applications -- can be stopped by an officer and issued a citation, police said.
The fine for violating the ordinance is $200.
Police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said Tuesday that officers often give verbal warnings when making stops for texting.
"Officers use their discretion based on information gathered during the stop to determine whether a violation has occurred," Richard said in a statement. "With each encounter, the hope is that the driver thinks twice" before using a cellphone to read e-mail or send a text.
"Ultimately, the goal is to provide safer roadways with people focused on driving," she said.
Before enforcement began, Arlington educated the public through the media and community groups and set up digital signs in the entertainment district and other high-traffic areas telling drivers: "Don't Text and Drive. In Arlington, it's the law."
Mayor Robert Cluck, who pushed for the ban along with Councilman Robert Rivera, said he was not disappointed with the low number of tickets.
"We actually don't want people to receive tickets. What we want people to do is not text while driving," Cluck said.
Arlington police issued 22 tickets to motorists illegally using their cellphones in active school zones during the same period, Richard said.
Council members Mel LeBlanc, Jimmy Bennett and Sheri Capehart voted against the ordinance on both readings.
'A full-time job'
Austin and San Antonio also ban texting while driving.
Austin adopted its ordinance in 2009. While the number of citations was not available Tuesday, Lt. Craig Cannon of the Police Department's Highway Enforcement Command said texting or cellphone Internet usage is one of many forms of distracted driving that officers aim to prevent through enforcement and education. Austin has 40,000 reported traffic accidents a year, he said.
"Driving is a full-time job, not a part-time endeavor," Cannon said. "Concentrate on that."
Cannon said enforcement can be difficult because officers have to testify in court that they witnessed the driver engaging in the illegal activity with their phone and not simply scrolling through their contact list or dialing a number, both of which are allowed in Austin and Arlington.
The department continues its public education efforts, but the city does not have signs at its major gateways to warn motorists passing through about the ban, he said.
But whether drivers were posting a message on Facebook, eating a hamburger or putting on makeup doesn't matter when they run into another motorist.
"Bottom line is, you ran over the car in front of you. We don't care how you did it," said Cannon, adding that such motorists are typically cited for following at an unsafe distance. "[Officers] don't need to prove you were texting."
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578