Mostly Verbal Warnings, not Tickets, to Texting Texas Drivers

By | December 3, 2012

A year since it began enforcing a ban on texting while driving, a North Texas city says awareness has increased despite the small number of tickets written.

Arlington police have issued 49 citations to drivers who were seen using their cellphones for long periods of time since last Thanksgiving, the agency said. Verbal warnings are more common.

The dialogue between officers and citizens has led to safer roads, Arlington police spokesman Sgt. Christopher Cook told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

A study released last year by the Texas Transportation Institute found that reading or writing a text message behind the wheel can more than double a driver’s reaction time.

The Texas Legislature passed a texting-while-driving ban in 2011, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it. Statewide, the only ban is on cellphone use in school zones.

Statistics show that more than 81,000 crashes in Texas last year involved some kind of distraction in the vehicle, driver inattention or cellphone use, and that 361 were fatal, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Nearly 14 percent of the 6,094 wrecks reported in Arlington between May 2010 and May 2011 involved distracted drivers. And in 4 percent of those wrecks, the distraction was a cellphone.

“I’ve actually taken a quiz on my phone online while driving. I got a 100,” said Caleb Amis, a 24-year-old student at University of Texas at Arlington. “I don’t remember how I got to school because I don’t remember driving.”

Michael Forrest, 22, another student at the school, said he tries not to text while driving for safety reasons, but says the city’s $200 fine also is a deterrent.

Violators are not difficult to spot, police said. They often swerve across lanes of traffic or stare at their laps.

“I’ve seen other cars have to take evasive action to avoid collision with another car because the driver was distracted,” said Arlington police officer Darrin McMichael.

San Antonio, Austin and El Paso have similar ordinances.

State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, said lawmakers plan to try for a statewide ban again next year.

“Writing a text or checking your messages is not worth injuring yourself or someone else,” Craddick said. “I believe a ban on texting while driving will help save lives.”

According to Craddick, House Bill 63 introduces a common sense safety measure to ban the use of a wireless communication device to read, write or send a text-based communication while driving, except when a vehicle is stopped.

Approximately 25 Texas cities have adopted an ordinance banning texting while driving.

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