Crime Watch: APD cracking down on cell phones at the wheel

Austin police have found a way to target those sneaky drivers who continue to use their cell phones behind the wheel. As FOX 7's Noelle Newton shows in this week's Crimewatch, it all has to do with vantage point.

A woman texts away on her phone as she drives in heavy morning traffic on I-35. She and other drivers are unaware that Austin police are watching.

Four highway enforcement officers peer out of the windows of a Cap Metro bus. They play the role of spotters looking for drivers using their phones. They call out the vehicles and offense description to motorcycle officers positioned along the interstate.

Sgt. Michael Barger explains they reason behind the bus.

"It used to be that people would hold their phones up when they text. Now with the ordinance people know they can't have it in their hand, so they hold it down in their lap. When you're in a regular car you have a hard time looking into a vehicle cause you're not in an elevated position. You cannot see the cell phone in their lap," said Barger.

This is the fifth time the department has carried out the hands free initiative. During the first four, officers wrote 214 tickets.

All citations filter through Austin Municipal Court Chief Prosecutor Bianca Bentzin. She rode along to see first-hand how the operation works.

"Defendants come to us all the time and say there's no way a cop can see me in my car, see me holding my phone. When you come out here and watch the operation and you see just how easy it is to see people on their phone it makes it easier to do our job for sure," said Bentzin.

Bentzin gives first time offenders the chance to defer their ticket if they purchase a blue tooth device. Bentzin says her goal is the same as police to change behavior.

"I believe AAA did a study recently where they determined somebody at the moment they're texting on their phone is three times more dangerous than someone who is legally intoxicated," said Barger.

"We have to repeat giving the message that this is really dangerous driving," said Bentzin.

After three hours of traveling up and down I-35, officers totaled 96 citations. This will not be their last go 'round. The next stop is U.S. 183 and then it's onto Mopac. A ticket for using an electronic device while driving will cost you $205.

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