LAGRANGE — U cant txt.
That’s the message LaGrange City Council wants to send drivers.
City leaders held a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed ordinance to ban texting while driving. Drivers who are caught tapping cell phone keys while navigating city streets could face fines from $50 for the first offense up to $1,000 if their messaging causes an accident.
If passed, the ordinance would authorize police officers to stop drivers who appear to be creating, sending or reading text messages. If a driver isn’t texting, they can refute the charge by showing the officer their phone.
The ordinance also would ban cell phone use for drivers who hold a learner’s permit.
“As a matter of safety, I think it’s an excellent idea,” said Nathan Gaskin, a LaGrange resident who spoke at the public hearing.
But Gaskin added a few caveats, saying he thinks the law would be virtually impossible to enforce and could have negative unintended consequences.
He also questioned whether the city could be trying to deter more serious crimes.
“We’re talking about texting and last week I’m reading in the paper about someone being shot,” Gaskin said.
LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar said Gaskin’s concern is legitimate and the department is constantly working to keep the city safe. He also said various safeguards are in place to prevent profiling.
For example, when vehicles are stopped, a record is kept by the office, Dekmar said. Traffic stops are reviewed regularly for drivers’ race and gender and analyzed to see if there are trends.
The texting ordinance, which would not become official until another reading and a vote by councilors, was initiated by Mayor Jeff Lukken.
He said he’s seen more drivers distracted by messages on their cell phones so he wants to curb what he thinks is becoming a dangerous practice.
“We knew looking at the ordinance it’s hard to enforce, but we wanted to make sure we send a message to our young people,” Lukken said.
At the Governor’s Highway Safety Association’s annual meeting last month in Savannah, Ga., delegates enacted a policy calling for a ban on texting while driving.
Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, also recently announced the department will hold a Distracted Driving Summit on Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Washington. The meeting will focus on how to reduce wrecks caused by distracted driving practices, such as texting.
Currently, 18 states ban texting while driving, but neither Georgia nor Alabama is among them.