Calling all Austinites: Austin's new hands-free ordinance goes into effect on January 1, meaning use of all electronic devices while operating a vehicle will be illegal.
The ordinance was passed by Austin City Council in August 2014 in response to safety concerns over distracted driving. "Austin is leading the state of Texas in the effort to refocus drivers on the task of driving," Austin police officials said in a press release. "The hands-free initiative aims to increase safety by decreasing distracted driving, which includes any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving."
The ordinance, which also extends to those operating a bike, bans electronic devices including cellphones, GPS systems, MP3 players, laptops, handheld games and (if anyone still uses them) pagers.
If your vehicle is in motion and your hand is on an electronic device, then you're in violation of the new ordinance. However, if your vehicle is at a complete stop, you are allowed to use electronic devices. (That includes resting at stop lights, stop signs or during stand-still traffic.) Using a cellphone is permitted while driving only if you're contacting the police regarding an emergency, accident or crime.
APD encourages you to pull over if you really must send a text, answer a phone call or put an address into your GPS. Officials are also urging Austinites to invest in a hands-free tool — such as a Bluetooth, a mounted GPS or headphones — that lets you use your beloved electronics while also lowering the risk of distraction.
According to Texas Department of Transportation statistics obtained by APD, distracted driving has resulted in more than 22,000 crashes and claimed 82 lives around Austin in the past three years alone. If that's not enough to discourage you from using your device while driving, ignoring the new ordinance is a Class C Misdemeanor and can result in a citation with a fine up to $500.
For a full list of banned devices and more information on the ordinance, visit the City of Austin website. The city also released the following PSA to serve as a reminder.