Council revisits texting and driving

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Checking e-mail, social media could be included in final ordinance

The Denton City Council has agreed to move ahead with a ban on texting and driving that could also prohibit drivers from checking e-mail or using social media such as Facebook or Twitter.

Council members revisited the matter during a work session Tuesday afternoon and directed the city staff to come up with a broad definition for “texting” before drafting the final ordinance. Mark Nelson, the city’s director of transportation, brought additional information and research to the council discussion.

“Texting and driving is considered the new drunk driving,” Nelson said.

A recent online survey of residents through EngageDenton.com showed mixed feelings in the community about an outright ban on wireless handheld devices. A total of 336 people voted in the poll, with 190 in favor of a ban and 146 against.

Some of the comments showed residents wondering about being able to use a GPS device and similar concerns. However, there was general agreement about texting.

The council waffled initially on moving ahead with a ban on all handheld devices, indicating it might not be sufficient in light of all the ways Denton drivers have been distracted recently.

Statistics from the police department’s investigation of vehicle accidents over the past three years show that plenty of other things were distracting drivers, from adjusting the radio,to picking up an item, to the family dog.

Council members said they would prefer the ordinance have a broad definition for texting, so that someone checking e-mail or using social media would be included.

The initial recommendation for a ban on all handhelds would have made a ban more readily enforceable, but a ban on texting wasn’t without precedent, Nelson said, pointing to a similar ordinance in Arlington.

Denton was among those cities that banned the use of cellphones in school zones before the Texas Legislature finally made it state law in 2009. The Legislature went on to pass a statewide ban on texting and driving in 2011, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it.

It was unclear Tuesday when Denton’s ordinance banning texting and driving would come back to the council for a final vote, but the council also asked for an awareness campaign to accompany it.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

IN OTHER ACTION

During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:

• Awarded pay raises for three executive employees retroactive to October 2013. New base pay for City Attorney Anita Burgess is $208,407; City Manager George Campbell, $235,024; and Municipal Court Judge Robin Ramsay, $117,754. Burgess and Ramsay got 3 percent raises and Campbell got a 1.5 percent raise.

• Approved an airport hangar lease be transferred to David Shulman and a stop-lease certificate for Inwood Bank on the hangar owned by Nebrig Properties at Denton Enterprise Airport.

• Approved an agreement with the University of Texas at Arlington for monitoring and improvements at the landfill for $227,433.

• Retained Terry Morgan and Associates for legal assistance with its oil and gas development ordinance for $300,000.

• Agreed to purchase a dump truck for the streets department for $143,264; for Denton Municipal Electric, a backyard digger derrick for $131,559 and electric utility circuit fault indicators for $360,000; and a “use of force” simulator for the public safety training facility for $278,310 from grant funds.

• Amended an agreement with CP&Y of Dallas for additional engineering services to expand the landfill for a contract total of $1.1 million.

• Approved three-year contracts to purchase street sealant from Crafco Texas for $255,000, and recycling and refuse containers for the solid waste department for $1.4 million.

• Ordered the May 10 election for mayor, Place 5, Place 6 and District 2 on the Denton City Council.


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