Denton City Council member Brandon Chase McGee, a professional truck driver, appeared to have been driving his truck route while joining a special-called council meeting Tuesday morning on video, and violating state law in the process.
McGee participated via video chat to vote on certifying the election results regarding former City Council member Alison Maguire’s recall and Denton’s marijuana decriminalization ordinance.
When he first appeared on video, McGee seemed to be holding his cellphone in his hand as if he were taking a casual call from the driver’s seat. In the video recording of the meeting, it appears that every once in a while, his eyes would shift to the road, but it was unclear if he was parked or driving during the meeting.
Toward the end of the meeting Tuesday, he appeared on screen again, but looked to have placed his cellphone lower, possibly near a cup holder. His hands were on the steering wheel, his Bluetooth phone headset was in his ear and his seat belt was fastened.
Businesses and trees flashed by the window as he seemed to be driving to make his delivery while addressing his fellow council members and the public.
The Denton Record-Chronicle contacted McGee on Tuesday afternoon to confirm if he was indeed driving during the meeting, as it appeared Tuesday morning. But, at that time, McGee did not provide comment and requested questions sent via email.
McGee did respond Tuesday evening but did not include comment on or reference the Record-Chronicle’s question about driving during the council meeting that morning.
In Texas, the state allows most people to use their phones while driving as long as they’re not texting, which became illegal in 2017, or using it while in a school zone or operating a commercial vehicle, which then falls under different rules.
“In reference to video chat, while driving a commercial vehicle, [it] is not allowed in the state of Texas,” Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. Kyle Bradford said in an email Wednesday.
“The only mounted approved device is a GPS. They are not allowed to use a cellular device,” Bradford said. “Inform the council that the driver was not fully aware of the law.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, as well as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, recently published rules that, according to the FMCSA’s website, prohibit interstate truck and bus drivers and drivers who transport placardable hazardous materials from texting or using handheld mobile phones while operating their vehicles.
The joint rules are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s latest actions to end distracted driving, according to the FMCSA website. Violating the rules could result in fines and/or driver disqualifications and will impact a motor carrier’s and/or driver’s Safety Measurement System results, an important tool that insurance companies also use.
The FMCSA points out on its website:
“This rule restricts a CMV driver from reaching for or holding a mobile phone to conduct a voice communication, as well as dialing by pressing more than a single button. CMV drivers who use a mobile phone while driving can only operate a hands-free phone located in close proximity. In short, the rule prohibits unsafely reaching for a device, holding a mobile phone, or pressing multiple buttons.”
The FMCSA lists several suggestions for using a phone safely while driving a truck:
- Locate the mobile phone so the driver can operate it while using a seat belt.
- Use an earpiece or the speakerphone function.
- Use voice-activated or one-button touch features to start, answer or end a call.
McGee appeared to be following these requirements for cellphone use in the video and may have been allowed to do in other states — but not Texas, according to the DPS official.
While it isn’t illegal in Texas to speak on the phone while driving as a motor vehicle driver, in November 2018, a South Texas legislator, Judith Zaffirini, introduced Senate Bill 43 to require hands-free cellphone use in Texas.
But, the bill didn’t include video-chatting while driving. It was referred to State Affairs, where it died, according to Legiscan.com.
Several Texas cities, though, have already enacted ordinances limiting cellphone use for all drivers, including Denton, which banned handheld cellphone use and driving in 2017, though drivers can use their phone if it’s mounted. It’s Class C misdemeanor and carries a fine up to $500.
Distracted driving leaves victims in its wake. On Christmas Eve in 2014, a 20-year-old Tarrant County man, Garrett Wilhelm, was video-chatting while driving in Denton County when he struck another vehicle, killing a 5-year-old girl and injuring her family members.