On November 6, San Antonio's City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning the use of handheld devices while driving. The Council cited safety concerns as its primary justification for the ban. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TX DOT), distracted driving contributed to over 90,000 vehicle accidents in 2013. There is currently a statewide ban on cell phone use in school zones during times that reduced speed limits are in place. See TX HB 347 There is also a current city-wide ban on texting while driving. However, the new city-wide ordinance prohibits drivers from holding phones (or other devices such as iPads) in their hands at all.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, drivers may still use cell phones to answer or place calls, however they may not hold their cell phones in their hands and have a conversation while driving. Instead, drivers must either hang up or utilize non-handheld means such as speakerphone, earbuds, or bluetooth. Additionally, the ordinance makes exceptions for emergency situations by permitting drivers to use their cell phones to communicate with on-duty public safety personnel or emergency response operators, to report illegal activity to police, and to contact a hospital or physician's office regarding a medical emergency.
Drivers can be fined up to $200 if they are issued citations for violating the ordinance. The ban is set to go into effect on January 1, 2015, with a 30-day grace period to warn drivers about the ordinance and its penalties. San Antonio had already joined other cities, including Austin, who had city-wide bans that targeted texting while driving. But San Antonio's new ordinance goes further by discouraging drivers from using handheld devices altogether.
Outgoing Police Chief William McManus has said that enforcement of the new ordinance will be funded by a $1 Million grant from TX DOT. While the ordinance itself only targets two forms of distracted driving, it may serve to eliminate some of the biggest diversions for drivers, particularly younger drivers who are more prone to text or use social media while driving.
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