Wichita Falls City Council Passes Cell Phone Ban For Drivers
UPDATE: Enforcement of the new Wichita Falls city ordinance banning the use of hand-held mobile devices by drivers officially starts today, March 23. You can read the exact details of the ordinance below.
Tuesday morning (2/21), Wichita Falls city councilors unanimously approved an ordinance banning the use of cell phones by drivers inside the city limits, unless a hands-free device (including speakerphone) is being used.
The ordinance was proposed at a previous city council meeting, but was met with concerns from several council members regarding some of the wording of the proposed ordinance. The ordinance was passed after an amendment was added allowing the driver to use their fingers to answer or end a call, so long as that action does not require the person to hold the phone in their hand.
With a packed house during Tuesday's meeting, city councilors cited that in 2016, of the 2,474 accidents investigated by Wichita Falls police in the city, 27 involved people who admitted that cell phones and/or texting were a contributing factor in causing the accidents. In 2015, there were 26 cell phone related accidents.
Some residents see the cell phone ban as another government overreach, while others view it as necessary to protect the public from the dangers of texting and driving.
Wichita Falls Mayor Stephen Santellana was one of the first city officials to propose the ban. "I'm one of the worst texters and drivers. I myself have almost put myself and my children in danger several times," Santellana told Mike Hendren in a Feb 8 interview on Wake Up Call.
Mayor Santellana agrees that banning cell phone use while driving is an inconvenience, but "I would rather inconvenience somebody and make my city a little bit safer than just say I didn't...we have a responsibility to the public safety," he said.
When asked why not simply ban texting while driving instead an all-out ban, the Mayor responded, "What we're trying to do is make it all encompassing. "It helps me enforce it, and it helps me prosecute it," he said. "I don't want to put the burden on my police staff to make a judgment call every time they pull somebody over...and [drivers] could just say, 'I was talking on it, I wasn't texting.'"
The new cell phone ban isn't just for drivers, either. The ordinance uses the term "vehicle" instead of "motor vehicle," to ensure that bicycles, motorcycles, and any other device that can be used to transport persons or property on a highway is included in the ban.
Here are the general requirements of the new ordinance restricting the use of cell phones by drivers:
Sec. 102-67. General Requirements.
(a) An operator of a vehicle may not use a wireless communication device for any purpose while operating a vehicle on any street or highway within the City of Wichita Falls, unless employing a hands-free device.
(b) This section does not apply to:
1. An operator of an authorized emergency vehicle using a wireless communication device while acting in an official capacity;
2. An operator who is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission while operating a radio frequency device other than a wireless communication device;
3. An operator using a wireless communication device who is legally parked; or
4. An operator who is using a wireless communication device while the vehicle is on private property.
If caught in violation of the above, the fine will be up to $500 plus court costs. However, a Wichita Falls Municipal Court Judge has said that he is inclined to set the fine and court costs at $195. The ban will go into effect on March 21, 2017.
Wichita Falls joins almost 100 other Texas cities that have banned or restricted the use of cell phones while driving.
MORE: Wichita Falls Mayor Defends Ban on Cell Phone Use For Drivers