Two Texas Cities Prepare to Enact Behind-the-Wheel Phone Bans

December 24, 2014

Two of the biggest cities in Texas are reminding drivers of bans on handheld devices behind the wheel that take effect in Austin and San Antonio come January.

Police in both cities won’t start issuing fines until February. Talking on a handheld phone while driving is banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and all but a handful of states have made texting while driving illegal.

Texas is among the states without a statewide texting while driving ban, though many cities have their own ordinances.

“This is really an addiction problem,” San Antonio City Councilman Mike Gallagher said. “It has become so pervasive that it is now a larger distraction than any of the other distractions that are out there.”

Fines in San Antonio starting in February will be $200. Violators in Austin will face fines up to $500.

Distracted driving caused 459 deaths and 18,500 serious injuries on Texas roadways in 2013, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Those figures include cellphone use, talking to passengers, eating, grooming or even adjusting the radio.

San Antonio has reported more than 250 crashes linked to cellphone use in each of the past three years, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

But crash statistics show that for as much attention as cellphones get by policymakers and the media, they contribute to a small number of crashes. Federal data shows that of 30,800 fatal crashes in 2012, only 1.2 percent was attributed to cellphone use, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

From 2010 to 2012, cellphones accounted for 5 to 7 percent of crashes caused by distraction. But the federal agency still notes that texting is “by far more the most alarming distraction” because of the attention it requires from a driver.

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