Texting ban not approved in GFA proposed ban on texting while driving, though it already has preliminary approval from the Grand Forks City Council, is going back to committee because council members think it both goes too far and not far enough. Had it passed at Tuesday’s council meeting, sending or receiving text messages or accessing the Internet while on the road, would’ve been punishable by a $30 fine.
By: By Tu-Uyen Tran, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
A proposed ban on texting while driving, though it already has preliminary approval from the Grand Forks City Council, is going back to committee because council members think it both goes too far and not far enough.
Had it passed at Tuesday’s council meeting, sending or receiving text messages or accessing the Internet while on the road, would’ve been punishable by a $30 fine.
Instead, there were proposals to allow texting if stopped at a red light because that didn’t seem dangerous to some and proposals to ban driving while “distracted,” which could mean anything from putting on makeup to eating a hard-shelled taco.
Some wanted to take a break for six months while police gather data, which they do not do now, about what kinds of incidents involve texting while driving.
Some feared a blanket ban would make it illegal for drivers to just check who it is that just texted them so as to call them back. Talking on the phone and driving is not subject to the ban.
Unable to come to a consensus, the council referred the proposed law back to the Safety Committee from whence it came for another round of discussion. The committee meets next week.
Studies do suggest that texting can impair driving significantly, with one suggesting that it is worse than being drunk or high on drugs. Anecdotes from area residents and from council members suggest that texting and driving have led to plenty of close calls.
Council member Terry Bjerke launched the debate over the limitations of the proposed ban. Why is it that it’s perfectly legal to read a newspaper, shave, put on makeup while behind the wheel, but illegal to check a text message while at stoplight, he asked.
He said he preferred to trust the discretion of the police with a law forbidding distracted driving, which would actually target the behavior deemed dangerous.
A majority of the council — members Doug Christensen, Tyrone Grandstrand and Dana Sande — took roughly the same position.
City Attorney Howard Swanson cautioned city leaders that a ban on distracted driving would be harder to prosecute. A ban on texting and driving would require proof only that a) the offender was driving and b) that they were texting. A ban on distracted driving would require proof that a) the offender was driving, b) taking a specified action and c) that specified action was actually distracting.
Council President Hal Gershman, who proposed the ban on texting and driving after hearing from constituents, said a distracted driving ban would be too broad. “I’ve heard people say we’re becoming a nanny state in Grand Forks. If you want to go there, this is the way you’re gonna get there.”
What if a driver gawked at a construction site? Would that constitute a distraction, he asked? By making enforcement so subjective, he said, the law was bound to attract controversy.
In contrast, he said, there is widespread support for a ban on texting and driving.
Council member Curt Kreun, who chairs the Safety Committee, agreed. He said he trusts that police will use their discretion not to go after drivers who are simply checking their phone to see who just texted.
Gershman, who was chairing Tuesday’s meeting in Mayor Mike Brown’s absence, asked colleagues to make a motion to exempt texting at the stoplight as a compromise.
Instead, Christensen asked for data about accidents caused by texting and driving, but, upon learning that police are just beginning to modify incident report forms to include that practice, said the council should probably wait six months to see what the reports say.
Grandstrand motioned to send the issue back committee with a second from Christensen. Bjerke and Sande joined them to vote “yes.” Gershman and Kreun voted “no.” Council Vice President Eliot Glassheim joined in by phone, but had to hang up because of technical difficulties before the vote.
Tu-Uyen Tran is a reporter at
The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.