A closer look at Austin's hands-free law

Austin ushered in a new law with the new year.

The city is now hands-free that means no talking or texting on your hand held device while you're driving or pay a hefty fine.

The ordinance was passed to help deter distracted driving. This month, Austin police officers will issue warnings then starting February 1st they'll hand out tickets. We met a few drivers Tuesday who tell us they are thankful for this grace period.

Officer Lee Knause is on a crusade to make sure drivers stay focused on the road

"I worked a crash this morning where I suspect a phone might have caused it," he said.

The new hands-free law means no talking, texting, or even holding your phone while driving or riding a bike.

"You can use your phone if the vehicle is stationary so it's intended to if you have a stopping point at a light or the vehicle is not in motion to take or place a phone call then you'd have to switch to a hands free mode to talk on the phone," Officer Knause said.

The hands-free ordinance is in a grace period this month but starting February 1st officers will be handing out tickets instead of those warnings.

"There are already a lot of distractions in your vehicle anyway and it's an additional variable that through training experience we see it really can contribute to crashes," he explained.

A distraction that was responsible for almost 5,000 crashes in Travis County last year, that's according to TXDot statistics.

"Overall I think it's a good idea because a lot of accidents are caused by people texting or talking on the phone," said driver Shawnese Hale.

Hale was just one of three drivers Officer Knause stopped during a ride-along with FOX 7 reporter Elizabeth Saab.

"I'm just getting used to having a Bluetooth capability inside of the car so now when I use it - it's on but I pick it up and still put it to my mouth it's a habit I have to break," Hale says.

Because the law is just a few days old, there aren't any hard numbers about how many warnings have been issued. To give you an idea how many people have been stopped for texting and driving, the city says last year there were nearly 700 tickets written, that's double the amount of 2013.

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