Recently the San Angelo City Council passed an ordinance that prohibits texting while driving. The gist of the ordinance is relatively simple. If you are operating a motor vehicle on a public street, you cannot text or use software applications. There are a few exceptions that typically relate to contacting emergency personnel. Beginning Saturday January 8, 2016, San Angelo Police officers will be stopping motorist who are observed violating the ordinance. Except in extreme circumstances, oral and written warning citations will be issued for the next couple of months in an effort to educate drivers about the ordinance and give them the opportunity to adjust to the new restrictions. The department encourages drivers to be aware of the provisions of the ordinance and make a conscious effort to comply. Beginning March 1, 2016, officers will begin taking full enforcement measures and will utilize their discretion on whether or not a citation is issued.
- A driver of a vehicle shall not use a wireless communications device, including a cell phone, I-Pod, I-Pad, tablet, PDA or laptop computer, to read, write, or send any text message, picture, or email or to access/use any software App while driving his/her vehicle on a public street.
- While legally parked or stopped out of traffic
- While dialing or talking on the cell phone or other device
- To read directions when using the device as a navigation system (travel map)
- To call for police, fire or ambulance assistance to report an emergency such as a traffic accident, crime in progress or medical emergency
- In conjunction with voice operated, hands-free (blue-tooth) or push to talk technology
- Violations of this ordinance are punished through the San Angelo Municipal court. Each guilty violation is subject to a fine not to exceed $500.00.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS –
What is a “wireless communications device?”
A wireless communications device is an electronic device that is used to compose (write), send and/or receive texts, symbols, pictures, emails etc.… This includes a cell phone, smart phone (I-Phone or android), I-Pod. I-Pad, tablet, kindle, laptop computer or other similar device that is capable of sending or receiving information by use of cellular service or Wi-Fi connection.
What does “hand-free” mean?
Means the capability of a phone or other device that allows it to be used without the use of the driver’s hands other than to activate (answer) or deactivate (hang-up) the device.
How will police officers enforce this ordinance?
If a police officer sees a driver of a vehicle using a wireless communications device in a manner that reasonably infers that the driver is texting or using an application in violation of the ordinance, the officer will have probable cause to stop the driver and issue a citation.
A driver may raise one of the exceptions, at which point, it will be in the officer’s discretion whether or not to issue a citation. Often the easiest way to remedy this problem is to freely provide evidence to the officer of the exception you are raising. Any defenses or exceptions the driver believes exist may be presented to Municipal Court during trail.
Remember, a citation is not an admission of guilt or innocence, it is simply your written promise to appear at municipal court within the prescribe time to answer for the alleged violation.
Will the ordinance be enforced outside the city limits?
No. The ordinance affects only those drivers within the City Limits of San Angelo.
If I am stopped for texting while driving, can the officer inspect or take possession (seize) of my phone?
You may present your phone (or other device) to the officer for review or inspection; however the officer may not inspect, seize, or otherwise take possession of your phone without your consent unless authorized by state or federal law. If you are asserting that an exception or defense exists, providing evidence to support your position may assist the officer in doing his duty.
Aren’t there other laws that prohibit texting and driving?
Yes and No. Texas Transportation Code (Traffic Law) Section 545.424 prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from using a wireless communication device while operating a vehicle except in an emergency. It also prohibits anyone under the age of 17 with a restricted motorcycle or moped license from using a wireless communication device except in an emergency.
Section 545.425 prohibits all drivers from using any wireless communications device while operating a vehicle in a school zone or on school property unless the vehicle is legally stopped or a hands-free device is used. This section also prohibits the driver of a passenger bus from using a wireless communications device unless the vehicle is stopped.
Other traffic laws typically address instances of distracted driving. Any driver of a vehicle may be cited or arrested for violating traffic laws that stem from distracted driving whether it is reading a newspaper, applying make-up, tending to children or adjusting the radio. It is the driver’s responsibility to use due caution and maintain control when operating a vehicle on a public roadway.
Do police officers and firefighters have to follow the same rules? What about their laptops?
Police Officers and firefighters are subject to the ordinance just as any other driver. However, police officers and firefighters are specifically exempt from the provisions of the ordinance if they are acting within the scope of their employment, regardless of the type of wireless communications device being used.
Laptop computers are a visual extension of the radio system in which officers receive calls and other emergency information. Officers are trained to use due care and caution when using the computers. They are further directed by policy on the specifics of when and how to use the laptop computers. During emergency situations, critical information is typically relayed over the radio system as well as the laptop to provide the officer both an audible and visual record of the information.