AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you’re driving in Downtown Austin near the Paramount Theater on Congress Avenue on Wednesday, you’ll notice the Texas Department of Transportation’s new campaign to keep you from talking and texting while driving. It’s called “Talk, Text, Crash.”
TxDOT officials say distracted-driving crashes killed close to 500 people and injured more than 3,000 in Texas last year. In Austin, there were more than 3,000 crashes linked to distracted driving.
As a reminder to drivers or cyclists caught violating Austin’s hands-free ordinance: You face a fine of up to $500 if you’re caught using your phone while driving or cycling.
Unless you’re using a hands-free system — such as Bluetooth, headphones, or an affixed GPS system — while driving a car or riding a bike, any handheld devices will be a citable offense. It is classified as a class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.
The new law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. In December 2014, City of Austin officials unveiled a public service announcement and urged drivers and bicyclists to practice safety on the road.
The new ordinance prohibits the use of electronic hand-held devices while operating a car or bicycle. You can hold your phone to talk or text if there is an emergency and you need to call 911 or 311 to report a crime or a crash. Police say, even in an emergency situation, it is best to pull over and come to a complete stop before using or operating any mobile or hand-held device. You are also allowed to use your phone while stopped at a stoplight or stopped in standstill traffic. Texas has banned using handheld phones and texting in school zones, and that law still stands with these new rules.
A recent study released in April 2013, by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, estimates that in 2010, 3,092 people were killed — 9 percent of all deadly crashes — and 416,000 people were hurt — 18 percent of all injury crashes — in crashes involving distracted drivers.
Some actions police officers narrow in on:
- Drivers manually making and disconnecting phone calls, with the exception of emergency calls to 911
- Participating in a conversation with the phone held to your ear or in your hand while talking on speaker phone
- Viewing and sending any electronic data — including email, text messages, pictures, websites, social media and games
- Entering or changing information in a navigation or GPS device. Drivers are expected to set the GPS prior to driving.
- Holding your cell phone, period. Hands-free means hands-free.
Meanwhile, the City of Lakeway is enforcing a similar law next week.