Hands-free Austin

Austin police targeting cellphone ban violators — and it will cost you

Austin police targeting cellphone ban violators — it will cost you

News_Driving and texting_Feb 10
Using your phone or other electronic device while driving can result in up to a $500 fine. Photo by Jason Weaver

KVUE — Austin is officially a "hands-free" city. "And that's what it means. Hands free. Your hands need to be on the wheel of the vehicle while you're driving," said Austin Police Highway Enforcement Commander Art Fortune.

Not only driving, but biking as well.

Last year, the city council passed a distracted driving ordinance prohibiting drivers and cyclists from using hand-held electronic devices while in motion. "Electronic devices" include phones, GPS navigation systems, iPods and computers.

As expected, the ordinance received mixed reaction. "The texting part, I agree with," said Shannon Robinson, who lives in Austin. "The phone call and GPS part, I don't. I've only lived here for two years or so. I don't know my way around."

The ordinance went into effect on January 1. Police have taken it easy on violators since then, giving warnings instead of tickets. Officers will start ticketing violators on February 1.

"What we'll be looking for, for violations will be people that are manually disconnecting their phone calls, participating in a phone conversation with a phone held to their ear, viewing or sending any electronic data including emails, text messages," said Fortune.

Drivers and cyclists also can't send pictures, be on social media or program or change their GPS systems while moving.

There is one exception to the rule: Drivers can hold phones while reporting an emergency or a crime. Drivers can also have their hands on their phones if they are at a complete stop. Using Bluetooth, headphones or speaker phone is also allowed.

Violating the ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $500.

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