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College Station City Council considers new distracted driving ordinance

College Station City Council considers new distracted driving ordinance

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College Station is looking into creating an ordinance that would require hands-free use to talk on wireless communication devices while driving. 

City staff plans to create a draft ordinance and find information on how it would impact the police department in regards to enforcement efforts to present to the city council at a later meeting. The council also will need to decide on how much notification signage should be in place throughout the city and its cost. 

In her presentation during a council workshop on Thursday, College Station police Assistant Chief Brandy Norris said in 2018, there were 543,537 crashes in Texas, and 96,151 — 17.6% — were a result of distracted driving. Norris also outlined the city’s history with a hands-free ordinance. 

In August 2016, an ordinance prohibiting the use of wireless communication devices while operating a motor vehicle was adopted. It went into effect in November 2016, and full enforcement began in January 2017. 

At the end of September 2017, the council formally repealed the ordinance because some parts of it conflicted with a statewide texting ban law that went into effect Sept. 1, 2017. The state law currently in effect prohibits the reading, writing or sending of electronic messages unless at a complete stop but allows drivers to use their GPS, text in an emergency or use a device for music. Any ordinance that the city puts in place could not conflict with the state law. 

Texas Transportation Institute Senior Research Scientist Katie Womack presented research during the workshop showing that wireless communication device use dropped when the city had its ordinance, but usage has been on the rise since the ordinance was repealed. 

Mayor Karl Mooney said he is concerned about how police officers could enforce an ordinance, but he was interested in hearing more and potentially implementing such an ordinance if it could reduce the number of distracted drivers. 

“I believe that with the numbers that we saw, the ordinance itself serves as a deterrent, and the signs themselves would serve as a deterrent.” Mooney said. “If we can reduce the number of folks who will without hesitation pick up their phone … that might be worth it right there.”

Additionally, Womack’s research showed that usage went down when the statewide law went into effect but has slowly risen again. She said the rise in use has happened more in Bryan than in College Station. But Bryan and College Station are not the only cities to see this trend, Womack said, since many other cities that had an ordinance saw a slower rise in wireless communication device usage than places that never had ordinances in place. 

All council members agreed that staff should begin drafting an ordinance, and some were vocal about their concerns that the research showed the state law is not having as much of an effect as the previous ordinance. Safe2Save founder Marci Corry spoke in favor of an ordinance, as well as two other people who shared personal stories of losing a loved one or being personally injured due to a distracted driver crashing into them.

Council members also unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for a 1,270 square-foot expansion of The Angry Elephant bar and a request to change the zoning for about one acre at the intersection of University Drive East and Eisenhower Street. The change on the one acre lot was made as the applicant is preparing the space for a commercial redevelopment and lot consolidation. 

Visit blog.cstx.gov to see a workshop report from Experience Bryan College Station about how to increase area tourism, the full presentation on the potential hands-free ordinance and appointments to boards, committees and commissions.

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