SAN ANTONIO – In the last year, San Antonio police officers have issued 12,898 citations to drivers who broke city law by talking or texting on their cellphones while driving.
The city’s hands-free ordinance outlawing handheld devices while driving took effect in January 2015, followed by a 30-day grace period.
SAPD officers began issuing citations of up to $200 each to violators in February 2015.
“I think the message is getting across to all of those who are caught, because its affecting their pocketbooks,” said District 10 City Councilman Mike Gallagher, who proposed the ordinance in 2014.
While Gallagher feels the implementation of the ordinance has been a success, he sees room for improvement.
Gallagher would like to see repeat offenders issued increased fines and continued community education about the dangers of using handheld devices behind the wheel.
As of Jan. 12, 2016, the city had collected nearly $1.3 million in fines and fees from citations issued.
"One of the things we've done is to spend money, some of that fine money, on signs to make sure that people realize we have this ordinance in effect in San Antonio,” Gallagher said.
SAPD Chief William McManus said officers have been diligent about cracking down on violators, but he still sees people texting or using their phones while driving when they think police aren’t looking.
“Every time you see somebody on their phone while they’re driving, texting or talking or whatever they may be doing, they’re putting you and me and my family and your family in danger,” McManus said.
First responders are exempt from the handheld ban while on duty.
Because using a handheld device while driving is not considered a moving violation, it does not impact a driver’s record with the Texas Department of Public Safety or their insurance.
For various reasons, the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office has dismissed 501 cases of hands-free ordinance violators since February 2015.
Reasons can include lack of evidence or complications with witnesses.
The number of cases dismissed after violators completed the probation they were sentenced to instead of paying the ticket stands at 2,556.