More restrictive laws for handheld devices start Jan. 1 in Austin
In an effort to reduce deadly crashes caused by distracted driving, the City of Austin will step up its enforcement of new laws prohibiting the use of handheld devices in 2015. The ordinance was passed in August 2014 and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.
A current law already prohibits texting while driving, but the new law is aimed at stopping any distracted driver from contributing to the highway death toll in Travis County, where 10 deadly accidents occurred in 2013 due to distracted driving.
Here is a summary of the new laws that will be enforced:
- Use of any handheld phone or other electronic device while driving or biking is prohibited;
- Viewing, sending or writing messages while moving is prohibited;
- Drivers must use a hands-free device such as a Bluetooth or earbud;
- Only one earbud may be used, allowing other traffic sounds such as emergency vehicles to be heard; and
- The law pertains to devices including phones, tablets, laptops, GPS systems, pagers and electronic gaming devices.
Here are some limited exceptions to the new laws:
- A GPS device may be used if it is a fixed device, but not to enter or change information while a vehicle is moving;
- Drivers may use a device to make a 911 or 311 call to report a crime or accident to authorities, but are even then encouraged to pull off the road while making the call; and
- When a vehicle is at a complete stop or standstill or at a red light, the use of an electronic device is allowed.
The penalties for violating the new law include a fine of up to $500 and a Class C Misdemeanor charge.
In Texas in 2013, nearly 5,000 accidents were attributed to distracted driving. While the new law is designed to lower this number, some drivers will still ignore the law and cause injury and even death on Texas roadways.
If you are the victim of someone who fails to observe the law, a consultation with an attorney who is familiar with the new laws can be helpful in determining what your rights may be to recover compensation for someone else’s negligence.
Source: KXAN, “City begins public campaign for hands-free ordinance,” Kate Weidaw, Dec. 18, 2014