Austin could ban cellphone use while driving

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Drivers stuck in Austin’s famously awful traffic would have to resort to hands-free technology under proposed recommendations for strengthening the city’s distracted driving ordinance.

The city council ordered the creation of the Distracted Driving Study Group in February and tasked it with researching ways to strengthen the existing distracted driving ordinance. Currently, driving while dialing is permitted but drivers in Austin are prohibited from texting while driving, scrolling, emailing and otherwise putting their smart phones to work.

In a memo to the mayor and council members dated Monday, Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald outlined the group’s recommendations:

“The new ordinance should make it illegal to “use” a portable electronic device… while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle in the active travel lane. The ban should apply to vehicles in motion as well as those stopped a traffic control devices.”

“When you’re focused on the phone you’re looking at the phone and you’re not aware of your peripherals,” said one driver who agrees with the decision.

“I think given that we know the challenges in Austin, the difficulties we have with congestion, any distraction increases the likelihood you’re going to be in a crash,” said Asst. Police Chief Brian Manley. He serves on the Public Safety Commission and is also part of the study group.

He says more than 90 percent of people surveyed said they see people talking on their cell phone when driving.

The memo specifies that using your phone to contact 911 in the event of an emergency will still be legal and drivers will still be allowed to use a GPS mounted on your car to navigate around town. Other exemptions include first responders, commercial vehicles using two-way radios and someone who has pulled on to the shoulder.

The city council will likely take additional input from key stakeholders before putting it on the agenda for a future city council meeting. Ordinances are subject to public hearings where members of the public are allowed to speak in favor or against the ordinance before it is voted on by the council.

If city council passes this new ordinance, you could get a ticket if caught with your phone in your hand. It’s unclear how much the fine would be.

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