Hands-free ordinance goes into effect

Thursday was the first day a hands-free ordinance takes effect in Austin. That means anyone using a hand-held electronic device while driving or cycling is breaking the law.

In October, City Council granted Austin police's plea to ban all hand-held use of a cellphone while driving.

Last month, police said it was difficult to enforce an existing ordinance that only banned texting behind the wheel.

"It's very hard to discern, when you're pulling alongside a motor vehicle or observe someone in traffic, whether they're actually texting or actually dialing a number. So it's been a challenging ordinance to this point," said Austin Assistant Police Chief Brian Manley.

For the next month police will issue warnings to drivers who have a cellphone or other electronic device in their hand. In February, police will begin issuing citations.

Several people in Austin said they are prepared to comply.

Catherine Miller said she has an app on her phone that keeps her from using the phone while driving.

"Once you reach 25 miles an hour it engages and so you can't receive notifications for your text messages and it sends a reply, 'driving,'" said Miller.

Robert Myers is also ready for the ordinance.

"My truck is all set up with Bluetooth, so I don't really have to. I can hit a button to make a phone call. I don't text when I'm driving," said Myers.

There are times when a device can be used legally while driving. If there's an emergency, use of a cellphone is allowed as well as when your vehicle is stopped at a red light, a stop sign or in traffic.

Police said there are not enough officers to enforce the law around the clock and they are hoping for compliance.

People in Austin said police might not get their wish.

"Because we are so connected to our devices and it just seems like an inconvenience to have to wait or pullover," said Miller.

"I'll probably stop it consciously, but I'll probably continue to use the map. I'll just keep it below the window," said Scott Beatty who lives in Austin.

Violating the ordinance is a class "C" misdemeanor. That includes a fine up to $500.

A hands-free ordinance also took effect in San Antonio Thursday.


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