City of Bastrop to begin enforcing hands-free ordinance

A new hands-free ordinance is in effect in Bastrop city limits, although police said they need to fix some street signs before enforcement begins.

“I think it's time. Might save a life or two,” said Chris Blair who learned about the dangers of distracted driving seven years ago. 

“I was run over by a lady at 6 o'clock, changing a boat tire as a pedestrian, she was doing 70 miles an hour, she was on the phone and it changed my life," Blair said. "Things have been a lot different since then."

That's why Blair said creating a more restrictive hands-free ordinance in Bastrop is long overdue. 

“I think it's a great thing. People need to watch the road,” said Blair. 

The ordinance was called for by a group of high school students who took their concerns about distracted driving to the mayor. It makes the use of portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle a Class C misdemeanor. 

The law is stricter than the statewide ban on texting or emailing which Texas lawmakers passed in 2017 and Bastrop Police Chief James Altgelt said that's a good thing. 

“It's definitely much easier to enforce, because if the phone is in your hand, unless you're using it for GPS purposes, unless you're making an emergency call, and the vehicle is moving, it's a prohibited act,” Altgelt said. 

Police said they will work to educate people and are in the process of placing signs to warn drivers entering the city. 

Originally Bastrop police planned to begin enforcement Monday, but they ordered the wrong size signs to post on highways into the city, so now they will wait until the new, larger signs are in. The smaller versions will be placed at busy intersections.

Once the signs are up, officers will issue a warning to any first time offender for the first 60 days. After that two-month grace period ends, it will be up to officers to decide whether to ticket the driver or educate the driver. 

“The goal of any traffic enforcement, whether it's speeding or it's the hands-free ordinance, is to generate voluntary compliance," Altgelt said. "Writing a bunch of citations and pulling people over is never the goal."

Each violation carries a fine up to $300, but, as Blair knows all too well, distracted driving could cost someone much more than that. 

“I’m lucky to be alive. I'm grateful to be alive,” said Blair.