Tighter cellphone restrictions could be coming for Austin drivers

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Stricter rules could be coming for Austin drivers when it comes to using your cellphone while driving. City leaders will consider enforcing a hands-free ordinance next month.

The regulations would be in addition to the “no texting” rule now in place.

A distracted driving study group formed in February, which includes Austin Police Department officials, is drawing up new rules for cellphone use while driving.

“We know how congested our roads are. We know the traffic challenges we already have,” said Austin Police Assistant Chief Brian Manley. “When you add distracted driving on top of that, it just adds another layer of dangers.”

The study group looked at rules other cities have in place. They also gathered public input to help shape their recommendations for city council. About half of the people surveyed said they use a cellphone while driving. Nearly two-thirds — 63.7 percent — said they think using a cellphone is dangerous. Just about the same amount — 63.4 percent — said they use hands-free technology in the car. More than 98 percent of people surveyed consider texting while driving dangerous.

“The city currently has an ordinance banning texting and driving, however, it can be difficult to enforce at times,” Manley said. “Because it can be hard to tell from an officer’s perspective whether that individual was actually texting or whether they were dialing a phone or something along those lines.”

A hands-free ordinance could include bicyclists.

“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 rules could also prohibit cellphone use while you’re stopped at a light unless it is hands-free.

Later this month the study group will present ideas to the Public Safety Commission. Then the city council will hear the recommendations on Aug. 1.

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