LaGrange Council tables ban on texting while driving

Councilors table the ordinance because of enforcement issues, waning support

amccallum@ledger- enquirer.comSeptember 24, 2009 

LAGRANGE, Ga. — Drivers in LaGrange will live to text another day.

An ordinance that would have banned texting while driving within the city limits was tabled indefinitely Tuesday. LaGrange Council members unanimously voted to put the issue aside after hearing criticism from citizens and questions about how the law would be enforced.

Councilman W.T. Edmondson moved to table the ordinance citing a petition he received against the proposed law. He said the petition had between 45 and 50 signatures.

City leaders initially held a public hearing on the ordinance Sept. 8. Leaders heard negative feedback from two residents at the hearing, one of whom said the law could infringe on citizens’ rights and possibly lead to racial profiling.

If the ordinance had been passed, police officers would have had the authority to stop drivers who appeared to be creating, sending or reading text messages. The driver would have had the option of refuting the charge by showing the officer their phone. The ordinance also would have banned all cell phone use for drivers who hold a learner’s permit.

The law would have fined drivers who got caught messaging while behind the wheel. Fines started at $50 for the first offense and rose to $1,000 if the texting resulted in an accident.

Officials also informally discussed the ordinance at committee meeting Monday, where support appeared to be lacking. Mayor Jeff Lukken told council members to vote against the measure if they thought texting wasn’t an issue, but he also urged them not to discount the measure because a vocal minority thought the ordinance could lead to racial profiling.

At the committee meeting, Councilman Bobby Traylor said other issues with cell phones are just as dangerous as texting. He said he recently was distracted dialing a phone number when he barely avoided a collision with another car.

“It’s just as bad to dial on my part as it is to text,” he said during the meeting, adding that the enforcement of the texting ban is problematic.

Councilman LaGree McCamey agreed.

“Where do you draw the line?” he asked.

Although officials ultimately agreed to table the proposal, several council members did say they want to the public to be aware of how dangerous it can be to text while behind the wheel.

They urged caution and common sense. Traylor said since his near-accident he has stopped dialing while driving.

Lukken also expressed hope the texting issue would be addressed in the future.

“I have confidence the state or the nation will move forward with this law,” he said.

Currently, 18 states ban texting while driving, but neither Georgia nor Alabama is among them.

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