The ordinance must be approved a second time to become law.
It would go into effect on August 1 and carry a $200 penalty for a first offense and $500 penalty for repeat offenses. All cell phone usage — including talking on a hand-held or hands-free device, text messaging or viewing images — would be illegal in the three-block school zone in front of West University Elementary School.
Police Chief Ken Walker said the ordinance is intended to keep drivers alert and children safe.
“It only takes a split second for a child to run out in the street and be injured,” Walker said after the meeting.
This ordinance would make West U. the first city in the nation to ban hands-free devices, Mayor Bob Kelly said.
“We would be way out front on that,” Kelly said.
While Walker ackowledged that enforcing the ban against hands-free devices will be difficult to enforce, he recommended them in the ordiance.
“Occasionally it will be enforced. I can see officers working on foot in the area might observe something like that,” he said.
Councilman Michael Talianchich said he believes including hands-free devices makes the ordinance stronger.
“I think it is important that it sends a message,” he said.
Councilwoman Phyllis Cohen said even if it is difficult to enforce that portion, “I think most people are going to comply voluntarily.”
Councilman Chuck Guffey said he wanted to be sure the law applies to moving vehicles only.
“As long as (drivers are) sitting still in the carpool line, I don’t think they should be given a ticket,” he said.
Walker said police would not enforce the law against drivers who were stopped and that language will be added to the ordinance to make that clear.
I think the hands-free ban will be more trouble than it’s worth, but it’s not that big a deal. I agree with the suggestion to limit it to moving vehicles only. You want to encourage people to wait till they’re stopped before using their phones, not ticket them.
The question now, which was raised before but not addressed in this article, is whether Houston will follow suit. I’d guess that it will, but probably not for a few months so our City Council can see how this gets implemented in West U. May as well see what problems arise and how they can be fixed before diving in. Assuming nothing terribly unexpected pops up, I fully expect this to be adopted by Houston in the not-too-distant future.