Bedford has joined Arlington and Grand Prairie in adopting an ordinance prohibiting drivers from using handheld devices — which includes texting — while driving.
The City Council voted unanimously last week to adopt the ordinance that makes it a Class C misdemeanor to use handheld devices to read, write or send text messages, emails or access the Internet while operating a vehicle. Violating the ordinance, which is now in effect, carries a $200 fine.
Police Chief Roger Gibson told the council that a citizens satisfaction survey showed that over 90 percent of residents either support or strongly support an ordinance to curb distracted driving.
“This has been on our radar for a long time,” he said.
Gibson said that research shows disturbing statistics. For instance, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says that texting while driving has about the same effect as consuming four beers.
And of the 3,377 deaths in traffic crashes in Texas in 2013, 460, or 14 percent, involved a distracted driver, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
“The numbers are staggering; it’s pretty darn scary,” Gibson said in an interview.
Bedford is preparing to launch a campaign in conjunction with the library to educate the public about the ordinance and the dangers of distracted driving. Information will also be on social media sites and electronic signs throughout the city, he said.
During Tuesday’s meeting, council members spoke in support of the ordinance.
Dr. Roy Turner said it is unfortunate that some things must be legislated.
“It’s a shame that we even have to consider this ordinance. This is common sense. Why put yourself in a compromising position? This is something that we should not have to legislate,” Turner said.
Bedford’s ban on using hand-held devices came a little more than a week after state Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, introduced legislation calling for a statewide ban on texting while driving. Craddick said recently that 38 Texas cities already have bans but that there is a “patchwork” of ordinances that confuses drivers.
“The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to make our roadways safer,” Craddick said in a recent email to the Star-Telegram.
Four years ago, the Legislature voted to ban texting while driving, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill, saying it was “government micromanagement.”
Gov.-elect Greg Abbott has also said that he opposes a statewide ban.
Critics have also questioned whether police will have enough proof of a violation to write a ticket.
In Arlington, during the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, police wrote a total of 381 tickets — 318 for motorists caught using a wireless device in a school zone and 63 for drivers improperly using a device outside a school zone.
There are some exceptions to Bedford’s ordinance, such as people using their phones in hands-free mode or as GPS devices affixed to their rear-view mirrors.
And emergency personnel are exempt from the ordinance.