The issue is scheduled to again be addressed at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, but in the form of a “distracted driving” ordinance aimed at banning much more than cell phone usage.
The council is expected to consider an ordinance that would lead to a citation for all manners of distracted driving, including using a two-way wireless device for talking, texting, scrolling or in any other way that would distract a driver from the road.
Global positioning or a navigation systems affixed to the vehicle would not be prohibited in the proposal.
The draft ordinance also makes it illegal to do anything else while driving that takes the drivers attention from the road, including eating, reading, writing, performing personal hygiene/grooming, physical interaction with pets, passengers or unsecured cargo or anything else that keeps the driver from having at least one hand free of all objects and used entirely to form a controlled grip on the steering wheel.
“This draft is based on several different ordinances I put together and it goes beyond just talking on the phone while driving,” City Attorney David Mecklin said. “It’s extended to all sorts of distracted driving. For example, if an officer happens to see you eating, reading, writing, brushing your hair, et cetera, where you have both hands off the wheel you could be cited with a violation of this ordinance.”
One concern of the original “hands free” ordinance was enforcement of the section of Interstate 20 inside city limits and the possibility it could become a money-generating law because Villa Rica would be on the only city in the state with such an ordinance. In the latest draft, the interstate would be excluded from the distracted driving ordinance.
“Several of the other council members had other ideas and it’s being presented as a ‘distracted driving’ wording instead of a ‘you can’t talk on your cell phone’ wording,” said Councilman Woody Holland, who proposed the hands-free ordinance earlier this year. “So, it’s prettier now, or it’s more enforceable, or it’s more at the discretion of the police.”
The only exceptions to the ordinance, if approved, is the use of electronic devices to report a traffic accident, medical emergency or serious road hazard; report a situation in which the person believes his or her personal safety is in jeopardy; report or avert the perpetration or potential perpetration of a criminal act against the individual or another person; or carry out official duties as a police officer, law enforcement official, members of a paid or volunteer fire department, or operator of an emergency vehicle.
The ordinance as first presented in early August made no reference to fines for violating the law. To prevent the ordinance from having the appearance of being a money-generating venture, the fines that will be included in the final draft will be on a graduated schedule that begin with a warning and increase in expense as multiple violations occur.
If approved, the new law would basically just align the city with the state law that already allows police officers to pull over drivers who appear to be distracted. Typically, it is left to the discretion of the officer to do so.
“If we feel like public safety is in danger in any way we can stop them and tell them not to do that. There is a state law for distracted driving,” Police Chief Michael Mansour said. “We haven’t been citing them for just driving down the road and doing something they shouldn’t be doing. We have the capability of doing it without an accident, but most of the time we don’t unless there is an accident.”