Police conducting hands-free driving stings in downtown Austin

Austin police officer pulling over a driver for distracted driving on Feb. 17, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)
Austin police officer pulling over a driver for distracted driving on Feb. 17, 2017. (KXAN Photo/Julie Karam)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday morning, Austin police were looking for drivers who use their cellphones while behind the wheel. It’s all part of a new stepped up enforcement by the department to crack down on drivers who are violating the hands-free ordinance. The department is targeting the downtown core because that’s where it’s congested and drivers are often distracted by their phones.

In total, 204 citations and warnings were issued during the initiative Friday. Six were repeat violators from their initiative last week.

Since the ordinance began in January 2015, citations have gone down. During the first year, the Austin Police Department wrote 5,122 citations to drivers who violated the hands-free ordinance and in 2016, 4,965.

DOWNTOWN INITIATIVE CITATIONS AND WARNINGS ON FEB. 17

  • 133 electronic device while driving citations (6 repeat violators)
  • 26 electronic device while driving warnings
  • 7 other hazardous citations
  • 22 non-hazardous/seat belt citations
  • 5 block the box citations
  • 11 other warnings
  • TOTAL: 204 citations and warnings

During their enforcement Friday, officers on bicycle and motorcycle were in downtown Austin from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. They did this kind of enforcement for the first time in downtown last Friday and wrote 99 citations. That citation costs $220, but there is a first-time violators program and drivers can get out of paying that ticket with the purchase of a hands-free device.

“If they purchase that blue tooth device after receiving that citation they bring that device in along with the receipt to talk to one of the prosecuting attorneys they will dismiss the ticket on what’s called deferred disposition,” says Michael Barger, Austin Police Department Highway Enforcement Unit.

Violators still have to pay court costs but APD says it amounts to less than the full citation.

Next week the department will do their bus operations again. That’s where an officer rides a Capital Metro bus looking for those talking on their phones, they radio to another officer who then pulls the driver over.

How to Avoid a Ticket

  1. Drivers cannot use ANY mobile device behind the wheel. The rules don’t stop at cellphones. You can’t dial, hang up a call, play a game, send text messages, or enter an address, among other things, if you’re holding a device and 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: If you don’t have Bluetooth built into your car, you can get something that will do the trick for less than $100. You can also purchase a mount for your phone as well.
  3. Bicyclists: The ordinance applies to you too!
  4. You can use your cellphone in emergencies: You can dial 911 and not get in trouble.

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