Council votes to ban holding cell phones while driving

Bans goes into effect Jan. 1

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council unanimously voted in favor of banning the use of hand-held devices while driving Thursday morning.

The ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

"By strengthening this law, we're going to make San Antonio much safer," District 10 Councilman Mike Gallagher said in October, when the council's Public Safety Committee approved the proposal.

It is currently illegal to use a cellphone while driving in school zones. The new ordinance expands the law to include all parts of the city.

Drivers would not be allowed to talk, text, view email and pictures, or use smartphone apps while driving, even if the driver is at a stoplight or stuck in traffic.

San Antonio police Chief William McManus said the increase in safety is not the law's only benefit.

"It makes it a lot easier to enforce (texting while driving laws) because typically what you hear when someone is stopped for texting is, 'I was just dialing a phone number.' Well, now you can't do either," he said.

Hands-free devices are exempt from the ban. Drivers would also be allowed to use their smartphone for GPS navigation so long as it is affixed to their vehicle. Emergency calls would also be exempt.

The ordinance does not apply to a person who is: On private property or legally parked, operating an authorized emergency vehicle while acting in an official capacity, licensed by the Federal Communications Commission while operating a radio frequency device other than a wireless communication device, or preventing injury to a person or property.

A violation would cost a driver $200.

"Today, City Council approved a Distracted Driving Ordinance," said District 9 Councilman Joe Krier in a statement released Thursday. "With such widespread support, it is clear citizens have realized this is an issue that results in distracted driving. I've requested a study to determine the effectiveness of the law. At the end of 2015, the City will review and report on the statistics to see whether or not this law reduces the number of crashes in San Antonio."

The San Antonio Police Department plans to inform residents about the ordinance via a campaign called "Keep 'em on the Wheel, San Antonio." The campaign will be launched through social and mainstream media. You can view below a Public Service Announcement the department produced.