COAHOMA — Area motorists traveling through this community, put away your smart phones and other electronic messaging devices. The city council has effectively banned texting and driving.
The first Crossroads community to join in what is becoming a statewide effort to stop motorists from texting while they are behind the wheel, the Coahoma City Council passed the measure during its July 26 meeting on a unanimous vote.
The ordinance — which went into effect upon its approval by the council Thursday — prohibits texting or other electronic messaging while operating a motor vehicle and sets a maximum penalty of $250 for each offense.
According to Coahoma Mayor Warren Wallace, the issue was brought to the council by several council members and residents who had already had near-miss traffic accidents due to motorists texting while driving.
“The traffic in Coahoma has grown exponentially because of the boom in the oilfield,” Wallace said. “The idea for this came from residents and council members who were nearly involved in accidents because drivers weren't paying attention to the road and were texting. I really feel like personal experience among the council members played a very large role in their decision to pass this ordinance.”
The ordinance states a driver may not use a wireless communication device to view, send or compose an electronic message or engage other application software while driving.
However, the ordinance does allow drivers to use their smart phones and other devices:
• While the vehicle is stopped
• Strictly to engage in telephone conversations, including dialing or deactivating a call
• As a global positioning or navigation system that is affixed to the vehicle
• For obtaining emergency assistance
• Solely in a voice-activated or other hands-free mode
Warren said he realizes enforcing the new ordinance will be difficult, however, he hopes it will have a marked effect among local residents, regardless.
“We're getting ready to put up signs and the Howard County Sheriff's Office is prepared to enforce the ordinance, however, we know it's going to be a tough stick,” Wallace said. “Most of the people in Coahoma are law-abiding citizens, so I feel like most of them will do the right thing.
“We know this isn't going to fix the problem. The trucks that are coming through Coahoma to and from the oil field, why those drivers may not be texting, we're hoping this ordinance might keep the kids from doing so and putting themselves in a position where they could get into a tragic accident with one of those trucks. When you're texting and driving, you're splitting your attention between at least three different things, so there's just no way you can be safe.”
Wallace said you don't have to spend much time on the nearby interstate highway to understand just how dangerous texting — or using your smart phone for any electronic task — can be.
“Years ago, if you got behind one of those people, you would have thought they were drunk,” Wallace said. “They swerve all over the road and they are constantly speeding up and slowing down. It doesn't take long to see just how dangerous they are, not only to themselves, but to everyone else on the road.”
The city of Odessa rejected a similar ordinance in October 2011, with only one member of its city council supporting the measure following a series of high-profile public hearings.
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, 2011 statistics show more than 81,000 Texas crashes involved distraction in a vehicle, driver inattention or cell-phone use. Of these crashes, 361 were fatal. Overall, nearly one in four crashes in Texas involves driver distraction, according to TxDOT studies.