Crossroads residents divided on fed recommendation to ban cell phones while driving

Dec. 13, 2011 at 6:13 a.m.

Sept. 1, it will become illegal to text while driving.

Sept. 1, it will become illegal to text while driving.

While many Crossroads residents agree with the intentions of the National Transportation Safety Board to ban driver use of cellphones and other portable gadgets, they disagree with the inclusion of hands-free phones.

On Tuesday, The National Transportation Safety Board issued a recommendation that all states ban drivers' use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices, except in emergencies.

The recommendation, unanimously agreed to by the five-member board, applies to both hands-free and hand-held phones and significantly exceeds any existing state laws restricting texting and cell phone use behind the wheel.

The board made the recommendation in connection with a deadly highway pileup in Missouri last year. The board said the initial collision near Gray Summit, Mo., was caused by the inattention of a 19-year-old pickup driver who sent or received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes immediately before the crash.

"A couple of months ago, I did it a lot," said Candace Lantiegne. "The first time my car swerved, I never did it again."

The 18-year-old Victoria resident said she now safely uses the hands-free phone option provided to her via her 2012 Kia Soul.

"It's been a tremendous help to be able to see on my radio who is calling. I can ignore or answer just by the press of a button on my wheel," she said. "I don't want to be unrealistic and say I'll never ever look at a cell phone again while driving, but I'll make more of a conscious effort."

Those people who do not have that hands-free option or those who have it and do not utilize it, however, are what fuels many people's support of the recommendation.

Last year in Texas, 2,352 vehicles were involved in an accident as a result of a cellphone or mobile device, while 440 ended in serious injury and 16 ended in fatalities, according to Texas Department of Public Safety data.

Current Texas law prohibits the use of texting in school zones and prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from texting or using a cellphone while driving

The NTSB recommendation comes on the heels of Gov. Rick Perry's veto of HB 242, a measure that would have banned texting while driving.

In June, Perry reportedly vetoed the bill because he thought it was a "government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults."

Area law enforcement shared their thoughts on the recommendation.

"It's an excellent idea," said Victoria Police Department traffic safety Sgt. Julian Huerta. "Anything that takes your attention from the highway is bad."

"When I see someone weaving in the road in the middle of the day, it usually means one of three things: a health issue, appreciating themselves too much or they are on the phone," said Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor. "All of us are guilty of reading a text on the move. If someone says they haven't, they are lying."

O'Connor said if the ban were made law, he is not convinced how much impact it would have on driving behaviors.

"We cannot legislate being a responsible individual. People are going to have to realize the risks and consequences of those risks and begin to respect them," said O'Connor.

Port Lavaca interim police chief Lt. Brandon Riedel questioned the language that usage of the devices would be permissible during emergency situations.

"Emergency situation means you need to pull over, and then get on the cellphone," said Riedel. "Texting while driving is just a bad thing to do."

Riedel estimated that his department had issued at least two dozen citations to drivers using hand-held phones in school zones.

Many Crossroads residents voiced their support of the ban.

"I wait till I get home. Why do people have to talk so much?" said 69-year-old Telferner resident Marie Krause. "Three-fourths of the time it is about foolishness."

"They should ban them. I've had experiences where I have seen drivers enter into the center lane because they weren't watching the road," said Victoria resident M.J. Vasquez, who declined to give his age other than to say he is over the age of 50. "It's like a disease. Everyone is texting while driving, especially youngsters."

Vasquez is also for banning mobile devices such as iPods while operating a motor vehicle.

"They can't hear the horns or the traffic," said Vasquez, who said he has observed numerous drivers on the road with ear buds in both ears.

Katie Littleton, a tennis coach and former educator, said most recently she was made aware of a Crossroads athletics coach who was frightening students because she was texting on her cellphone while driving the students to a meet in their van.

"I've seen so many posts from students on Facebook saying "Oh my God, I hope we make it," said Littleton, 69, of Victoria. "I'm driving to drive. I know that sounds old-fashioned, but that's the way I feel."

But not all Crossroads residents were fans of the potential ban.

Zach Smith, of Victoria, was vocal about his opposition.

"You can't fix ignorance. This ban proposed by the NTSB questions our very moral fabric of being an American. We live in a free country, not to be pushed around by anyone, foreign or domestic. Anyone who uses an electronic device behind the wheel knows the risk they are taking," said Smith, 23. "We, citizens of this great country, have to take a series of tests to obtain a license to operate a motor vehicle for reasons such as this ..."

He continued, "It should never be a mandated law from Big Brother. Would you want Big Brother telling you that you couldn't drink that coffee on the way to work in the morning, or how about no more eating while driving? Or maybe that nice, new GPS/NAV in your car? Doesn't that distract people as well? Sounds more and more like freedom is being stripped away."

Lantiegne expressed her disagreement with the recommendation as is.

"If we're going to ban one thing that negatively impacts the driver, then are we going to ban all the things that negatively impact the driver? The radio is a distraction. Kids singing in the back seat is a distraction. Driving home after getting laid off is a distraction. There are many things that can impact our driving performance," she continued. "If you are driving and using a cellphone and you notice you are not as aware as you usually are, then it's your responsibility not to talk on the phone and drive."

O'Connor implored state lawmakers to consult local law enforcement before making any future decisions on the board's recommendation.

"If the state does consider it, I hope they call on some of us who deal with it on a daily basis."



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