Cellphone ban coming for Austin drivers

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Put down your phones. Austin City Council members voted unanimously Thursday to approve an ordinance prohibiting the use of portable electronic devices while driving or biking. The changes strengthen the current ordinance, which right now just bans texting while driving. The new rules are slated to go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

“I think anything we can do to mitigate distractions in the car is probably a good idea,” said Austin driver Fabian Aguilar.

The proposed ordinance applies to cellphones, MP3 players, electronic games, messaging devices, and any other hand-held electronic device. The rules would make it illegal to use those gadgets while driving. Council added an exception that allows drivers to use the devices when stopped at a light or stop sign or if you are sitting in standstill traffic.

“Even though you’re only making a phone call, if you look down to check the number, sometimes that’s dangerous, too,” said Austin driver Brooke Gentry.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Statewide Ban?

A bill calling for new rules was squashed during the last Legislative session.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said there was no point since Gov. Perry would veto it. Perry didn’t actually reveal what he would have done, but the governor did veto similar legislation in 2011.

As Texas gets set to elect a new governor, here are the candidates’ positions on the ‘texting while driving’ ban.

  • Republican Greg Abbott is opposed to putting a statewide ban on the books.
  • In contrast, Democratic candidate Wendy Davis co-wrote one of the bills in 2011 that would have banned texting while driving in Texas.

The new rules would still allow drivers to use hands-free devices with cellphones. You can also pull over to the side of the road or park and dial away. The ordinance also includes bicycles. Christopher Stanton with The Austin Bicycle Advisory Council said bicycle rules should be looked at separately.

“Our response wasn’t that maybe cyclists shouldn’t be regulated, but that it should be looked at and reviewed in its own context,” Stanton said, who thinks more research on phone use on bikes needs to happen. “Because things are using the same facility, doesn’t mean the same laws apply.”

But some, like Aguilar, argue “same road, same rules.”

“I think that if you’re going anything faster than probably three miles an hour, you’re a danger to someone just walking on the street,” Aguilar said.

Some electronic devices and their uses are not banned by the ordinance. That includes calling 911 to report an emergency or get emergency help, two-way radios, and GPS devices that are part of the car.

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