Chattanooga officials disagree whether a city ordinance making texting a misdemeanor moving violation is necessary.
The ordinance comes at the urging of Chattanooga City Court Judge Russell Bean, who said he routinely opens the evening court docket with a video showing a head-on collision-caused by a texting driver-that killed three.
“Talking on a cell phone is bad enough,” he said. “But when you’re texting you don’t have your eyes on the road, you don’t even have both hands on the wheel.”
But Police Chief Bobby Dodd said the specific violation of texting while driving is difficult to enforce and he doesn’t believe a city ordinance mirroring existing state law banning texting is needed.
“I think distracted driving is distracted driving,” he said.
A city ordinance will allow officers to write moving violations for Chattanooga City Court, instead of writing state violations heard in Hamilton County General Sessions Court, Councilman Peter Murphy said. The county court schedules often mean officers work overtime, appearing in court after regular shifts
The proposed ordinance is scheduled for a vote at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Local law enforcement not exempt
President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2009 banning the approximately three million civilian federal employees from texting while driving in any government-owned, -rented or -leased vehicles or while using government-issued electronic devices. The federal law allows an exemption for a class of employees that includes law enforcement.
But Chattanooga police officers get no special exceptions to text, Assistant Chief Tommy Kennedy said.
“We don’t want our cops texting,” Kennedy said. “They are no different than the general public. I don’t want them sending texts to their friends.”
Bean said he agrees texting is dangerous for everybody.
“Maybe there should be an exclusion for that but it shouldn’t open the door,” Bean said. “It bothers me to see so many police officers driving down the road, texting.”
Dodd said 26 people died from traffic accidents in Chattanooga in 2010.
“It’s hard to prove which ones were from distracted driving,” he said.
Christy smith, coordinator of highway safety for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, said cell phone texting is difficult to track as a cause of accidents, mostly because it is self-reported and people are not always truthful. But a government website is starting to track the data, she said.
“Education and enforcement are some of the things our city and other cities have done to help change the culture of how people behave when they drive,” Smith said.
Councilman Jack Benson said he would support the city ordinance.
“I don’t know how important it is as far as police enforcement,” he said. “But i think it’s very important we impress upon people the danger of it.”