Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Ed Knappen, of Macy, Ind., texts his wife on Thursday from the Tennessee Welcome Center on Interstate 24, just west of Chattanooga.The U.S. Department of Transportation has a new law with a $2,750 fine for commercial truckers caught texting while behind the wheel.
City Council meeting - 9/27/11
In the end, it came down to money.
The Chattanooga City Council approved 9-0 on first reading Tuesday an ordinance that would allow texting citations to go to City Court.
Councilman Peter Murphy, chairman of the Legal, Legislative, Police and Fire Committee, said it boiled down to making sure police officers weren't going to two different courts and getting paid more overtime.
"It's more of a financial issue," he said. "It's costing taxpayer money."
A state law already on the books makes texting while driving illegal. But the ordinance approved by the council emphasizes it is illegal to text and drive in the city and anyone caught could be cited to City Court.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said this week that it started when an officer cited someone recently and took the citation to City Court. Because it is a state offense, the citations wind up going to General Sessions Court.
City officials could not provide this week the total number of citations that have been written for texting.
"That's not our only problem," Dodd said.
He said the police see a number of problems with distracted driving such as eating, drinking or having a pet inside the car roaming freely.
Council Chairwoman Pam Ladd said after the council meeting there were concerns with her and other council members at first about the effectiveness of enforcing the law. Several council members over the past month have stated that it would almost be impossible to catch someone texting unless it was after the fact of an automobile accident.
But she said in the end it at least makes it feasible for city judges to have the option.
"It gives us a local law for our judges to enforce," she said.
Councilman Jack Benson said the new ordinance can still be tweaked as the city finds out how effective it is. He said the citations can still go to General Sessions Court depending upon the severity.
"I think it will still be discretionary for the police officers on where it will go," he said.
The second reading will be at the regularly scheduled business meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.
The City Council has set up two information lines for the public concerning any questions or concerns regarding redistricting. The public can email concerns to email@example.com or call and leave a voicemail at 423-643-6665.
Murphy, during committee meetings, also announced in two weeks the city would begin its redistricting process. He said an email and voice mail have been set up to hear public concerns.
Murphy said he hoped the redistricting would be completed before Thanksgiving.