Denton Passes “Hands-Free” Ordinance, Banning Handheld Devices Behind Wheel

Denton is the latest North Texas city to take a hard stand against distracted driving.

Tuesday night, the City Council voted 6-1 to expand Denton's texting while driving ordinance into an all-out "hands-free" ordinance, placing a ban on texting, talking and any other handheld use of a device while driving.

"I lost a brother in a car accident," said Denton City Councilwoman Kathleen Wazny, who fought for the ordinance. "I know how much it hurts, and this was a personal fight for me."

The ordinance reads, in part, that "an operator of a vehicle may not use a wireless communication device for any purpose while operating a vehicle on any street or highway within the city of Denton."

While the use of hands-free devices will be allowed behind the wheel, drivers will only be allowed to use handheld devices if the vehicle is stopped.

The ordinance does spell out a few exceptions for emergencies.

"I always wonder now about the fact that if this was in place and truly was tough and enforced, could it have prevented what happened to my girls?" said James Shaffer, of Denton, who lost his wife and daughter to a distracted driver. "I'll never get that answer, but I'm glad that maybe other people won't have to have those kind of conversations and have those concerns."

The new ordinance will take effect on June 1, 2017, and fines can run up to $500.

The council began considering the expansion over the summer as the current ban turned two years old.

At that point, Denton police reported only 39 tickets being written for texting and driving once the original ordinance went into effect in May 2014.

Originally, Denton leaders had considered an all-out device ban, but stopped short at the time.

In just the past year, though, several neighboring communities, including Little Elm, Argyle and Lake Dallas, have all taken the hard stand against distracted driving, leaving many in Denton wondering if the time was right to do the same.

The city's Traffic Safety Committee recommended taking the step, and in October, Denton police presented new figures showing 191 distraction-related driving accidents since 2014 and 70 crashes where a phone had been a likely factor.

Currently Texas is one of only four states without a statewide texting while driving ban.

A copy of the ordinance is below, although before they voted, council members changed the word "initiating" to "answering" in one section, and the phrase "the City's public roadways" to "the public roadways within the City."

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