Engage D2: October 30, 2016 (Search for a City Manger Continues; Consideration to Revise Ordinance on the “Use of Wireless Communication Devices While Driving”; Update on I-35 Construction)

City Council meets tomorrow, Tuesday, November 1 in a work session and a regular session.  The agenda and backup material for each meeting can be accessed by clicking HERE.  Please let me know if there are particular items you would like to have clarification on.  There are two highlights I would like to make specific to our work session and council meeting on Tuesday.

1) We continue our methodical search for our next City Manager.
At this point each council member has reviewed resumes, videos, and credentials of a number of candidates.  Our next step is to pare this panel of candidates down to a final selection for in person interviews with council, meeting with staff, and the community.  At this point discussions are kept in closed session mainly to respect the privacy and security of candidates who may currently be employed elsewhere.  As a reminder, the City Manager is one of four employees that report directly to city council.  These four positions are:  City Manager, City Attorney, Municipal Judge, and City Auditor (which we are also hiring for at this time).

2) We will continue to discuss and consider taking action to amend our current ordinance regulating the “Use of Wireless Devices While Driving.”
The City of Denton currently has an ordinance (linked here) to regulate the use of wireless devices while driving.  This ordinance has been in place since May of 2014 and is more commonly referred to as a ban on texting while driving as it allows for the use of wireless devices to make and receive phone calls, as well as use of a mounted wireless device for GPS/navigation purposes.
With a relatively new ordinance already in place to regulate the use of wireless devices while driving why is council back at the drawing board just 2 ½ years later?It seems that we are having trouble enforcing the ordinance as it is currently constructed.If a police officer pulls a driver over for texting while driving the driver can claim that they were dialing a number to call or selecting a contact to dial.So it is fairly easy for drivers to suggest that there is a reasonable doubt as to whether or not they were texting.To remedy this ordinance’s perceived weakness council is being asked to amend the current ordinance (click here to see the proposed amendment) in such a way that would require the use of any wireless communication device to be “hands free.”On the surface this “hands free” designation seems to be a reasonable and easy remedy to make our current ordinance more enforceable.But the devil is in the details as they say.

I fully support efforts to make our roads safer for all who use them.I do believe that if people would stop their bad habits of driving while using wireless devices our roads could be a safer place.Despite these sentiments I am unable to support the proposed amendment to our “Driving While Using Wireless Devices” ordinance as it is currently drafted.I have a number of concerns related to language, enforcement, effectiveness, fairness, and flexibility to account for rapidly changing technology and laws.

What I Believe this Amendment Needs…
Clearer and Simpler Language: Hands Free vs. A Ban on Handheld Devices.  Words matter.  The proposed amendment allows for hands free use of wireless devices.   But touching a screen on a dash-mounted smart phone or a factory installed in-dash system to control your phone, music, and navigation system is not hands free operation.  Answering or ending a phone call by pressing a button on your steering wheel is not hands free operation.  Many cars today are themselves manufactured as completely connected mobile communication devices. Is council’s intent to make touching these controls to operate your vehicle illegal?  That is how the suggested ordinance is currently written.  If we are going to make an amendment to the current ordinance in order to make it more enforceable we should have language that bans the use of handheld devices.  A ban on the use of handheld mobile devices while driving would be more enforceable and would be a simpler law for the public to understand.

Enforcement Data – I believe that if council passes an amendment to this ordinance then we should have a quarterly report from our police department on the number of incidents ticketed, where they were ticketed (actually put the incidents on the map), the make/model/year of the vehicle ticketed, and the age/race/sex of the driver ticketed.  I am very concerned that this law could be used to unfairly target people based on age, sex, race, and assumed socio-economic status.  I also want to see that the number of distracted driving accidents per-capita decreases over time as we go.  If the law appears to be unfairly enforced or not effective then council should be aware in near real time.

Grace Period and Awareness – We need a 90-day grace period for the public to adjust to this law.  The city also needs to launch a publicity campaign during this 90-day grace period to inform the public about the revised ordinance, why it was passed, and the fines associated with violating the ordinance.

$100 max fine – The goal here is to modify behavior of drivers, not make money.  I believe a $100 maximum fine is substantial enough to get the attention of those ticketed.  The current maximum fine is $200.

A Review Clause – I believe that technology is moving fast and laws will have a hard time keeping up and staying relevant, fair, and enforceable.  There should be a clause in this amendment requiring a future council to automatically review this ordinance in 2 years time.

Cyclists? – Cyclists (of which I am one) share our roads and are doing so in increasing numbers.  Should this policy on the use of mobile communication devices apply to cyclists (operators of bicycles and electric bicycles) since in the state of Texas a person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle.

Again, I am all for making our streets safer.  I also believe that the widespread use of mobile communication devices while driving makes our streets less safe.  But there is a lot to be discussed, considered, and revised before I am comfortable with amending this ordinance.  I do not believe the proposed language is adequate for our citizens or our law enforcement.  If we are going to do anything we need to think it through and do it right.

3) An Update on I-35 Construction.
The mobility committee was recently provided an update on I-35 construction.  You can review that presentation by clicking here.

As always, please let me know your questions, concerns, and ideas.  I am here to serve you District 2.

Your humble representative,

Keely G. Briggs
Council Member District 2