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Only Hands-Free Phone Use In Your Vehicle, Starting Jan. 1

Texas A&M Transportation Institute

Holding your cell phone while driving will soon be a thing of the past in San Antonio. At Thursday's city council meeting, members voted unanimously to enact a hands-free only policy.

The new ordinance, which replaces previous ordinances which have banned texting while driving within the city limits, was proposed by District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher.

“A texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into an accident," said Gallagher. "It’s those statistics that say what we’re doing here is very, very important.”

Other members like District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran also voiced their support.

“I'm very happy to move forward with this," Viagran said.

Similarly, Mayor Ivy Taylor added her opinion.

“Public safety is our key responsibility, so it’s entirely appropriate for us to take this sort of action.”

Police Chief William McManus told the council that recent crash data showed the danger of mixing cell phone use while driving. He said that last year, 250 crashes in the city were directly related to cell phone use, with 90,000 distracted driving crashes statewide.

“The handheld use of cell phones is now viewed nationally as the larger public safety issue, when we’re talking about distracted driving," he said.

Steve Abrams talked about his grandson who died after being struck by a distracted driver last year.

"The teenager was arrested, held for a few months, and released. [The] reason for the release, based on the grand jury statement: no crime committed, it was just a horrible accident," Abrams said. "Passing the no hand-held device [rule] today is a start in reducing everything from minor fender benders, to major accidents resulting in deaths.”

Under the ban, a driver breaks the law if he or she engages in a call, sends a text, reads a text, looks at pictures, plays games, or does anything else that requires holding the device.

Any hands-free use is permitted and the GPS can be used if the phone is affixed to the dashboard or other surface. Licensed truckers using CB radios are exempted as well as police officers on duty. Drivers can also use their phones when making an emergency call.

The hands-free policy begins Jan. 1, and there will be a 30-day grace period to ensure everyone knows about the rule and is educated.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.