person texting on the phone while driving a car

Hands-Free Austin: The Hands-Free Traffic Initiative In Effect Super Bowl Sunday

Update: January, 2020
On September 29, 2018, two-year-old Allie White was struck and killed by a vehicle in a parking lot at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, Texas. Jaime White, Allie’s mom, said she had run toward Allie to get her to safety after Jaime saw a fast-moving car with a driver who was on the phone. Tragically, the driver knocked Allie down with the front of her car.

Holiday season 2019 was the first the family celebrated without Allie.

In an effort to find something good amidst the tragedy, the family is supporting the TxDOT #EndTheStreak campaign to have zero traffic deaths on Texas roads by 2050. Read more here.

Originally Published January 30, 2015

Hands Free Austin Closes 30-day Grace Period: APD Cracks Down Over Super Bowl Weekend

Super Bowl weekend will close out January, and the 30-day grace period allotted for Austin’s Hands Free Ordinance. The ordinance took effect on January 1, 2015, and prohibits the use of hand-held devices while operating an automobile or bicycle. Phone activity, including texting, without the use of a hands-free system is a violation; violations will result in a class C misdemeanor and a hefty $500 fine.

“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.” (from the KXAN news brief.)

Beginning February 1, 2015, and continuing through March 1, APD will implement the Hands-Free Traffic Initiative; Austin roadways will be under tighter scrutiny as the city cracks down on ordinance violations. During the initiative, APD officers will be looking for the following:

  • 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 e-mail, 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

Distracted driving contributes to an alarming number of automobile accidents; the city’s move to hands-free places the driver’s attention back on the road, reducing the risk of collision. For more information, visit the city’s website.

Hands Are For Steering The Car: Accident Prevention Ordinance Hands Free Austin Passes

Last week the City of Austin passed a comprehensive hands-free driving ordinance, taking the lead in Texas in the campaign to end distracted driving:

“The hands-free initiative aims to increase safety by decreasing distracted driving in Austin.  Distracted driving is any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving and all distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety.”  (from the Austin Police Department (APD) news release.)

When the ordinance goes in to effect on January 1, 2015, vehicle drivers and bicycle riders can be fined $500 for using any electronic hand-held device.

Scope of the Hands Free Ordinance

“Hands free” in relation to electronic devices and driving means a prohibition on use of electronic devices while driving unless using a Bluetooth or other speaker or headphones.  APD lists the following devices as covered:

  • mobile telephone
  • personal digital assistant
  • MP3 or other hand-held music player
  • electronic reading device
  • laptop computer
  • pager
  • broadband personal communication device
  • GPS or navigation system
  • electronic gaming device
  • portable computing device

Emergency situations are an exception; it is ok to use a hand-held cell to call 911 or 311 to report an accident or a crime.  Keep in mind, however, that even in emergency situations, usually it’s smart to pull off the road before using your phone.

Prevalence of Distracted Driving

A poll performed by HealthyDay in 2011 found that:

  • Approximately 86% of drivers have admitted to eating or drinking while driving.
  • Approximately 37% of drivers have texted while driving at least once, while 18% of drivers have said they have formed the habit of doing it often.
  • Approximately 41% of adult drivers have set or changed a GPS system while driving, and 21% do it “more frequently.”
  • Approximately 36% of adult drivers have used a map as road guidance while driving.
  • At least 1 out of every 5 drivers have admitted to combing or styling their hair while driving.
  • Approximately 14% of drivers have applied makeup while driving.
  • Approximately 13% of adult drivers have browsed the Internet while driving.

Let hands-free driving be on your New Year’s resolutions list for 2015.

Hands Free Austin Ordinance Video Public Service Announcement (PSA)

Outreach for the Hands Free Austin ordinance includes the following public service announcement.

Art Acevedo, Chief of APD, appears in a “Take The Pledge” video promoting hands free driving.