The Austin Police Department (APD) is finding creative ways to crack down on distracted driving. Members of APD’s Highway Enforcement are boarding city buses to act as spotters for a group of police officers on motorcycles stationed along Interstate 35.
In the past, drivers would hold their phones up in front of them as they drive. However, since the hands-free ordinance that passed, distracted drivers have gotten smarter and have started keeping their phones or other hand-held devices in their laps. Since the bus puts the officers in an elevated position, they can see inside of the cars. Once they do spot a distracted driver, they can radio the nearest motorcycle officer, who can proceed to promptly pull that driver over and issue a citation.
What are Austin’s Distracted Driving Laws?
Last year, more than 100,000 car crashes caused by distracted driving. Of those, at least 2,500 people sustained serious injuries and 422 died. While Texas does not have a statewide law that prohibits distracted driving, Austin passed a citywide ordinance that prohibits the use of electronic hand-held devices.
Technically, drivers are allowed to use hands-free systems, such as headphones, a GPS system, a portable device or Bluetooth. Additionally, drivers are allowed to use and manipulate cell phone screens while waiting at a red light. However, none of this is applicable in school zones, where drivers are not allowed to have any cell phone use at all.
Will This APD Initiative Help Decrease the Number of Distracted Drivers?
During the three-hour initiative, police officers handed out eight warnings for distracted driving and 96 tickets to drivers on their cell phones along I-35. First-time offenders will be allowed to have their tickets dismissed if they show proof of purchasing a Bluetooth headset that costs $50 or more. According to one police officer with APD who participated in the initiative, Austinites are beginning to be more cautious in when they use their phone on the road.
Aaron Allison is an Austin personal injury attorney that helps those injured in distracted driving accidents.