Should San Antonio Further Limit Cell Phone Use While Driving? | Texas Public Radio

Should San Antonio Further Limit Cell Phone Use While Driving?

Aug 28, 2014

Councilman Mike Gallagher is proposing tightening the texting while driving ban in San Antonio to only hands-free use.
Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR News

San Antonio’s texting-while-driving ban is four years old and some city officials, like District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher, don’t think it is working well enough.

Last week Gallagher proposed revising the current cell phone ordinance, which prohibits use of a mobile phone except for dialing or talking, to make it even stricter.

Gallagher’s proposal is to prohibit use of mobile phones entirely, except for in a hands-free capacity. A news release outlined the councilman's concerns that more than 90,000 crashes across the state in 2012 were linked to distracted driving. 

But distracted driving doesn't always mean texting and local statistics paint a more specific picture of cell phone use on Bexar County roadways.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, in 2012 Bexar County saw 269 crashes involving cell phone use specifically. That is less than 1 percent of the total number of crashes in the county for that year, which totaled 35,924.

Credit Ryan Loyd / TPR News

Looking at a number so low, and facing issues like a pending budget adoption and negotiations between the unions and the city on public safety employee health benefits, council focus has come into question. With all of the work to do, should city council take up the issue of distracted driving?

From a public policy standpoint, Dr. Henry Flores, who directs the masters of public administration program at St. Mary's University, said Wednesday that council members often raise issues like this when it's germane to public safety.

Flores said the need can be significant even with the small number of crash occurrences involving cell phones.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said he backs Gallagher’s proposal and said the policy should not depend on the data alone, but should instead lean on the potential for crashes due to cell phones; a potential that he said is becoming more of a problem for officers.

McManus said using a cell phone in a vehicle while driving puts others at risk.

"If you present a danger to others, then the law should be very specific about what you can and can't do," McManus said.

The typical process for a request like Gallagher's would have a council committee vet the proposal before it goes to the full council for consideration. Gallagher could not be reached for this story.