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Texting bans yet to catch on in JC
[May 01, 2013]

Texting bans yet to catch on in JC

May 01, 2013 (Cleburne Times-Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Proposed state legislation may soon render texting while driving illegal in Texas. Several area cities, however, have already enacted such ordinances and several Johnson County cities are considering similar measures.

Maypearl recently became the first Ellis County city, and one of the first smaller cities in the area, to enact such a ban.

Of the 768 Texas traffic fatalities since Jan. 1, many "were the result of driver inattention such as texting, checking email and posting updates to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter," according to a Maypearl Police Department release.

The same release cites a recent National Safety Council study, which found that cellphone use leads to about 1.6 million crashes per year of which about 200,000 resulted from texting while driving.

MPD officials said several accidents in town occurred because of texting or cellphone distractions. MPD officers worked with Maypearl Mayor John Wayne Pruitt and the city council members to pass the ordinance. Officials said that, given the rise of cellphone and texting accidents throughout the state, they wanted to enact an ordinance in case the similar proposed ordinance on the state level fails to pass.

"The primary purpose of the police department is ensuring the public's safety," Maypearl Police Chief Shannon Bachman said. "By enacting this ordinance we hope to both educate drivers to the danger and help prevent accidents caused by driver inattention." The ordinance only applies to the vehicle's driver and only when the vehicle is in motion.

"If you want to stop and check your email or send a text, please just pull over before doing so," the MPD press release reads. "The law does not pertain to other occupants of the motor vehicle as long as they are not distracting the driver while the vehicle is in motion." Maypearl joins about 25 Metroplex area cities in banning texting while driving.

HB 63 A bill under proposal in the state legislature reads similar to Maypearl's ordinance.

"An operator commits an offense if the operator uses a handheld wireless communication device to read, write or send a text-based message while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped," House Bill 63 reads.

The bill contains several exceptions, such as reporting illegal activity or summoning emergency help.

HB 63 recently passed the House by a 93-45 vote with state Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, voting in support. The bill has moved to the Senate where it has had a public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee but has not yet been voted out of committee.

When and if it is voted out of committee the full Senate may or may not receive the opportunity to vote on it before the May 27 close of the Legislative Session. Should it pass the Senate, Gov. Rick Perry would still have to sign it into law.

Perry vetoed similar legislation in 2011. Under the proposed bill the first offense would be punishable by a fine up to $100 and subsequent offenses by a fine not to exceed $200.

JC not text free Although most Johnson County cities prohibit cellphone use in school zones none have yet to enact a ban on texting while driving. Several, however, have considered such bans.

Grandview Police Chief David Henley said he has not proposed any such ordinances to the city council, but may in the future. City Administrator Travis Buck also said the council may address the issue in the future.

Burleson spokeswoman Sally Ellertson said the subject has been discussed, and that Burleson prohibits texting in school zones, but that no formal proposals concerning a citywide ban on texting and driving have been made. Officials from several other county cities said the issues have been discussed albeit not formally proposed to their respective city councils.

Cleburne, however, may address the issue soon. Several committees are reviewing city ordinances and regulations to suggest proposed changes and updates.

"[Deputy Chief Amy Knoll] is working with one of those committees so that's something we'd like to take a look at," CPD Chief Robert Severance said. "We're always interested in ways to improve driver safety." Although CPD reports have listed texting or cellphone usage as the cause or contributing cause several traffic accidents, none, so far, have resulted in fatalities or major injuries.

"But we don't need to wait for a major catastrophe to talk about this," Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said. "I've given it considerable thought and, with the ordinance reviews underway now, we're looking for the opportunity to discuss this with city staff and see what Chief Severance and the department thinks so we can give them the tools and resources they need to make safety priority number one.

"This is something we'd like to see the citizens weigh in on too. Because we don't want more government intrusion unless it's absolutely necessary. But the fact is, many are disciplined when it comes to cellphones and many are not. The advent of smart phones adds another level of distraction and I know I've had to develop the discipline to pull over when I get a call or text." ___ (c)2013 the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas) Visit the Cleburne Times-Review (Cleburne, Texas) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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