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The City’s hands-free driving ordinance went into effect last January, but San Antonio drivers continue to text, talk and use their cell phones on the road. Between Feb.1 and Dec. 31, San Antonio Police issued more than 12,000 citations to distracted drivers, collecting a total of $1.2 million in fines. The increase in distracted driving is part of a bigger cultural problem with Texas drivers, SAPD officials said.
San Antonio Deputy Chief Anthony Treviño presented the yearly hands-free driving report during City Council B session on Wednesday.
“I think we’re capturing a lot more than we did in the past, which explains the higher numbers,” Treviño said. “Our officers are also better educated, so they’re looking for more signs.”
San Antonio reported 42,000 total crashes reported in 2015, Texas reported more than 100,000 crashes, and more than 400,000 crashes were reported across the country. The number of car crashes caused by distracted drivers has increased nationwide.
“I think we all see it when we’re driving down the roadways,”Treviño said. “The mentality is that people can get away with it like they do with speeding, and we’re trying to change that where we can … but we can’t do this alone.”
The police department teamed up with the Texas Department of Transportation and Transportation & Capital Improvements to install more than 100 area-specific signs that show the number of crashes in the area each year as a reminder for drivers to drive safely. An additional 40 signs will be placed along roadways by the end of February.
Police also worked with local outreach organizations like the Johnson High School PTSA Smart Driving Club, which reminds drivers to put cellphones down while driving.
Melinda Cox, the club’s parent sponsor, created the club after her daughter received her driver’s permit in 2013.
“I worry because there are so many people texting and driving at the same time,” Cox said. “I know a lot of parents are worried.”
The club meets at public places, cultural and sporting events, and passes out state transportation statistics on texting and driving. There’s only 15 active members but, Cox points out, “you don’t really need a big group to reach people.”
Johnson High School senior Dylan Gonzalez, a 17-year-old member of the club, said texting while driving has become a 24/7 cultural phenomenon.
“I shouldn’t have to worry about getting hit, my friends shouldn’t have to worry, cyclists shouldn’t worry about being hit by cars,” he said.
Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) suggested the City enforce tougher penalties for distracted drivers, potentially increasing the $200 fine for repeat violations.
“We’ve got to get tougher in any way that we can,” Gallagher said. “Higher fines are something to consider.”
The ordinance has helped keep San Antonio roadways safer, Treviño said, but right now most of the success stories are anecdotal. The department will release concrete data that show the ordinance effectiveness in the coming months.
“I think we need to change the way Texas drives, period,” he said, with increased legislation and education.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) thanked the police and state department for their signage and increased education. She also singled out the Safe Driving Club and its student members for their work.
“I’m happy to say that Harlandale High Independent School District wants to do something to make sure that teens are engaged while walking and driving,” Viagran said. “We’re seeing that culture change.”
That’s the kind of news, Cox said, “that makes all this worthwhile.”
For more information on the club or club-related events, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Top Image: Deputy Chief Anthony Treviño discusses the hands-free driving ordinance. Photo by Lea Thompson.