Outgoing Houston Mayor Annise Parker has long expressed interest in a texting-while-driving ban but, until now, she hasn’t offered specific policy for council to consider. Her administration recently proposed three policies aimed at curbing the use of handheld devices while driving. The goal is for the council’s Public Safety Committee to review them and then select one to recommend.

The first policy is a flat out citywide ban on all handheld use while driving. The second is a citywide texting only ban. The third policy is one that Parker has long had the power to do, but has never acted on – enforcing the existing statewide ban on handheld device use in school zones. As of September, Houston Police Department hadn’t given any citations for cellphone use in a school zone, and the city doesn’t have any posted signs alerting drivers of the school zone texting ban.

According to Parker, signage for school zones would be too expensive, so her solution—as always— is to create her own regulations instead of enforcing laws already in place.

While a ban may temporarily reduce the number of drivers using mobile devices while behind the wheel, the fact remains that such bans don’t completely stop the activity, they merely punish it when it is discovered. Without consistent strict enforcement that initial behavior will rapidly fade. With complaints about the need for additional police on the streets, it’s bad policy to expect the ones that are patrolling the Bayou City to take time away from pursuing more serious crimes to give citations to those committing a traffic violation of purely hypothetical consequence.

Parker’s preferred governing model is to create laws instead of enforcing what is already on the books, in this case, state law that bans texting in school zones. We saw the same action when she pushed for a feeding ordinance to curb the already prohibited activities of littering and loitering. The return on investment for putting signage in school zones wasn’t high enough, so instead, she chose to push a large-scale citywide ban to increase revenue. Had this actually been a major goal of hers she would have chosen public safety over pandering and used her resources campaigning for a texting ban rather than an equal rights ordinance.

Most regulation coming out of city hall amounts to nothing more than additional cash grabs to fund the habits of an irresponsible administration. While they may claim it is in the name of “public safety,” reports are inconclusive.

Although proposal language hasn’t been settled and the item doesn’t have an agenda date yet, Parker said she will make sure it gets a vote before she leaves office.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.