City leaders seek public input on stopping use of handhelds while driving
City leaders have called for more public involvement in a discussion that could ultimately bring a ban on using handheld portable electronics while driving in Denton city limits.
The discussion began in the city’s Traffic Safety Commission last year at the urging of Gilmore Morris, one of the commissioners.
The National Transportation Safety Board recommended a nationwide ban in December 2011, after seeing an alarming increase in serious accidents caused by distracted drivers making phone calls, sending text messages and using other applications on their devices.
“They see distracted driving as the new DUI,” said Jim Coulter, director of water utilities.
The city already has a limited ban, targeting the use of handheld devices in school zones. Since that ordinance was adopted in 2011, Denton police have written 459 citations to people violating it, according to Police Chief Lee Howell.
In addition, in the past three years, cellphone use has been a contributing factor in 45 accidents in Denton, and the main factor in one of those accidents, said department spokesman Officer Ryan Grelle.
The commission decided to wait and see whether the Texas Legislature might adopt a statewide ban, but when the bill died in committee, the local commission took up the matter again.
During its workshop session Tuesday, the City Council considered the commission’s recommendation that Denton pass a ban similar to one in El Paso.
Howell said part of the reasoning for a complete ban on using handheld devices while driving is to make enforcement effective. But another reason is in states that adopted text-only bans, accidents are increasing, not decreasing, Howell said.
“The thinking is that accidents are going up because people are trying to hide their phones as they text,” Howell said.
In other words, they are taking their eyes off the road even more, he said.
Council members had mixed feelings about the ban, with Mayor Mark Burroughs questioning whether it was appropriate for the city to enforce the ban on the interstate.
Should the city adopt the ban, the street department would erect signs at every entry point, whether a highway or a gravel road, alerting drivers to the ban. That could cost between $32,000 and $36,000, Coulter said.
Council member Kevin Roden recommended that the city use its website, EngageDenton.com, to ask residents for their feedback on a ban.
“This is ripe for a community conversation,” Roden said.
A citywide ban is expected to come back to the City Council for a vote, but no date was announced.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
BY THE NUMBERS
States with bans on handheld devices while driving: 16
States with bans on texting while driving: 41
States with bans on all cellphone use by novice drivers: 32
Teens killed annually nationwide from texting and driving: 3,000 (estimated)
Teens killed annually nationwide from drinking and driving: 2,700 (estimated)
SOURCE: City of Denton
IN OTHER ACTION
During its regular meeting Tuesday, the Denton City Council also:
• Held a public hearing and authorized a 65 percent tax abatement agreement for four years with Tetra Pak Materials for improvements at its Denton plant.
• Agreed to purchase a milling machine from R.B. Everett and Co. for $391,894 and asphalt paver from Holt CAT for $156,716.
• Approved an engineering contract with CP&Y Inc. for $150,000 and a hydrogeological and analytical services contract with Solutient GeoSciences Inc. for $287,791 for the Solid Waste Department.
• Awarded a contract for improvements to the Solid Waste Operations Building parking to Caliber Construction Inc. for $359,198.
• Approved a change order allowing Bar Constructors an additional $290,000 for the Lake Lewisville Water Treatment Plant upgrade project, bringing the total cost to $32.4 million.
• Agreed to three-year contract with TIC Express LLC for purchase of remanufactured toner cartridges and printer supplies for up to $450,000.
• Awarded a contract to Okonite Co. for electric utility underground and substation cable for Denton Municipal Electric for up to $2 million.
• Approved $2,000 of in-kind services for the 2013 Mayor’s Mile community wellness walk set for 8:30 a.m. Saturday at MedPark Station.
• Allowed the transfer of an airport lease agreement from Jet Works Air Center Management, under bankruptcy reorganization, to Greenpoint Aerospace Corp.