Distracted: Cities looking to stop texting while driving

SAN BENITO — You talk, you text, you crash.

That is the slogan commonly seen on Texas roadways.

On an afternoon in May 2015, two women in Harlingen crashed at an intersection, living out the Transportation Department’s slogan.

One was confirmed to be on the phone and the other was confirmed to be texting.

One of those women died that day.

Harlingen has had a ban on texting while driving since 2012. Now, another Valley city is considering a law to prevent future crashes caused by texting while behind the wheel.

City leaders in San Benito are proposing a ban on texting while driving within city limits.

If the San Benito ordinance passes, drivers could face up to a $500 fine for texting while driving in town.

“We are not going to run out the door and start handing out tickets,” Police Chief Michael Galvan said. “But, we are not going to allow this in our city.”

Galvan said if the ordinance passes, there would be a 90-day grace period for drivers to get used to the new law.

“Hopefully, people will keep their eyes on the road,” he said.

In Texas, using cell phones and texting is prohibited in school zones.

Although Texas has no statewide law banning texting and using cell phones by all drivers at all times, many local areas prohibit or limit the use of cell phones while driving.

Galvan said a ban is a step in the right direction to make sure people are safe on the road.

“Distracted driving as a whole is a dangerous thing,” Galvan said. “Drivers are operating a vehicle that is a lethal weapon if not used properly.”

Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving.

“A driver’s full attention should be on the road and the vehicle,” Galvan said. “We are trying to teach the public that it is wrong to be texting and driving.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, more than 100,000 traffic crashes in Texas each year involve distracted driving.

“Distracted driving is larger than just texting or cell phone usage and includes anything that takes your eyes off the road,” said Jeffry Adickes, Harlingen police chief.

In 2015, 38 percent of Texas drivers admitted to talking on their mobile phone while driving at least some of the time, according to a survey conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

And more than one-fifth (21.2 percent) of drivers said they read or send text messages or emails when behind the wheel.

“Though we have begun 2017 with crashes down in Harlingen, HPD is currently researching model city ordinances that ban cell phone or personal electronic device usage except for in hands-free mode,” Adickes said. “In that research we certainly will be looking at how effective or worthwhile they have been in other communities.”

Are you willing to stop using the phone while driving to help save lives?

Rgacia@valleystar.com

Valley towns with an ordinance

CAMERON COUNTY

Harlingen

Brownsville

Laguna Vista

HIDALGO COUNTY

Edinburg

McAllen

Mission

Palmview

Pharr

San Juan

Penitas

 

Source: TxDOT

Key Facts on distracted driving

• In 2014, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

• Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.

• At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.

• Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.

Source: Distraction.gov