Hands-free cell phone rules in Austin could be far-reaching

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s city council will vote on a recommendation for hands-free only cell phone use while driving as early as August. Texting while driving is prohibited already in Austin.

A distracted driving study group that is putting the ordinance together gave an update Monday to the Public Safety Commission.

The hands-free ordinance could be far-reaching according to ideas put forth this week.

“I can tell you that the work group has discussed bicycles, pedicabs, even pedestrians,” said Brian Manley, Austin Police Department’s assistant police chief. “As we know, pedestrians step in front of vehicles periodically.”

Public safety commissioners agreed that bicyclists should be included in a hands-free cell phone ordinance.

“I think serious consideration should be given to expanding it to anything going over 10 mph on our public streets,” said Dr. Kim Rossmo, chairperson of Public Safety Commission.

“I think it should be the same rules,”said cyclist Brendan Larkin. “If bicyclists want the same rules as drivers, they should have the same rules in pretty much every respect.”

The distracted driving study group is recommending the hands-free ordinance apply to drivers stopped in their cars at a red light, as well. Commissioners didn’t agree with that.

“Someone who is looking at their cell phone while they’re at a red light; it might be annoying, but they’re not the same danger as someone going down I-35 and checking their text messages,” said Rossmo.

In July, the study group will present again to the Public Safety Commission. A vote from city council on the ordinance could come as soon as August 1, 2014.

The study group, formed in February, and is comprised of Austin police officers, transportation officials, the city’s law department, and the general public.

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