The proposal would have made it illegal to drive while basically doing anything but keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
A similar ordinance that would have required drivers to use a hands-free device while talking on their cell phones was approved earlier this year, but was vetoed a few days later by Mayor J. Collins. His veto stood.
The latest version included not only a ban on hand-held cell phone usage, but also would have prohibited drivers from “eating, reading, writing, performing personal hygiene/grooming, physical interaction with pets, passengers or unsecured cargo” — anything that would have kept the driver from maintaining direct physical control of the steering wheel with at least one free hand.
Only Councilmen Woody Holland and Rusty Dean voted in favor of the proposed ordinance. Holland made the original proposal to ban hand-held cell phone usage while driving after seeing it done successfully in other places in his business travels.
“I’ve traveled around a lot and seen how other cities, counties, states and countries handle cell phone use and basically it’s a whole lot safer when you don’t have a cell phone stuck to your ear all the time, so that’s why I’m pushing for it,” Holland said. “I just want to make the streets safer for everybody. It’s been proven that the use of a cell phone is equally, if not more so in certain situations, as dangerous as having a DUI person behind the wheel.”
Dean, an insurance agent, said he’s discovered through his research of insurance journals and other sources that cell phones are responsible for at least 25 percent of all accidents.
“One article that I read indicated that unless there is a major problem with an accident they don’t necessarily verify that fact, so there may be even more,” Dean said. “It obviously is a significant safety issue, much bigger than I thought it was. To be proactive, I think is probably good, especially if you’re the one that gets hit.”
According to City Attorney David Mecklin, state law already allows police officers to cite drivers who appear to be distracted and are driving in an unsafe manner. The ordinance that was voted down Tuesday night would have gone beyond the state law and Villa Rica would have been the first in the state to take such severe action to curb unsafe driving.
“They have the ability to cite those drivers now for doing any of these things,” Mecklin said. “If a driver was driving down the road, was not weaving or sitting at a stop light after it turned green, was driving correctly talking on a cell phone, that would not be illegal and a police officer would have no reason to cite that driver. They would, however, under current state law, if somebody is driving down the road talking on their cell phone and weaving across the lines or is just sitting at a green light talking on their phone, they could be cited for that. This does go farther than state law.”
Collins said one of his concerns from the beginning has been that if the city approved an ordinance that goes beyond state law, it could create an issue for those who are traveling through the city from other places and could cause the city to suffer a bad reputation.
“I just don’t know that we need to do that as a small suburban city,” he said. “I share your passion that this needs to be addressed, but I digress back to previous comments that I think the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and state legislators should be the entity that should take this up and not the city of Villa Rica.”