AUSTIN (KXAN) – New “hands-free” rules kick in next week. Are you ready?
With the new rules taking effect January 1, there are a few things you should know before taking to the road:
1. Drivers cannot use ANY mobile devices behind the wheel. The rules don’t stop at cell phones.
Austin’s new ordinance says you can’t dial, hang up a call, play a game, send text messages, or enter an address, among other things, if you are touching or holding a device and driving. Those devices include everything from laptops to iPods and GPS navigators. According to the ordinance, the GPS also must be “affixed to” the car to use while driving.
You are allowed to dial or pick up your phone if you are at a complete stop.
2. Software and gadgets can help you stay hands-free. Headsets aren’t the only option.
Many new cars come with stereos which have Bluetooth. This can let you make calls over your car stereo. Remember: hand dialing or even hanging up a call by picking up your phone is not allowed under the new rules. Still, you can set up your phone to help you with that. For example, you can put some phones into “driving mode”. The iPhone also has a feature that allows you to access the Siri voice control simply by saying “Hey Siri.”
If you don’t have Bluetooth built in to your car, you can get something that will do the trick for less than $100. You can also think about replacing your car stereo. Here are some of the products we found (research and use these products with your own judgement; we’re not making any recommendations):
- TomTom Hands-free Car Kit
- Plantronics K100 Bluetooth
- Belkin CarAudio Connect AUX with Bluetooth
- TranzIt LINK by iSimple Solutions
You can always go with the wired or Bluetooth headsets too.
3. The rules apply to bikes too.
4. You can use your cell phone in emergencies.
You can dial 911 and not get in trouble. The new ordinance has an exemption if you are calling in a crime, medical emergency, traffic hazard, or if you reasonably believe your life or safety is in immediate danger.
5. The cost of a ticket: up to $500
Austin police say they’ll only be issuing warnings for the first month. But in February, tickets could carry fines of up to $500.