Drivers in two major Texas cities — Austin and San Antonio — will ring in the new year with a little more regulation. New laws that ban cell phone use will take effect on January 1, 2015, although police in both cities will not start issuing fines until February.
The Austin City Council voted unanimously in August to approve an ordinance that will prohibit the use of portable electronic devices while driving and bicycling. It is intended to strengthen the city’s existing ordinance, which only banned texting while driving, according to KXAN-TV.
The new law will allow Austin drivers to use hands-free devices with cellphones. Other electronic devices and their uses would not be banned, including calling 911 to report an emergency or get emergency help, two-way radios, and GPS devices that are part of the car, KXAN-TV also reported.
San Antonio followed suit in November when their City Council voted unanimously for an ordinance that banned the use of any handheld mobile devices to talk or text, KSAT-12 reported. It is currently illegal to use a cell phone while driving in a San Antonio school zone.
Starting 2015, drivers will not be allowed to talk, text, view email and pictures, or use smartphone apps while driving, even if the driver is at a stoplight or stuck in traffic,” according to KSAT-12.
Like in the existing ordinances, the Austin fine for violating the ban will be $500 and in San Antonio, tickets are set at $200.
Talking on a handheld phone while driving is banned in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and all but a handful of states have made texting while driving illegal, the Dallas Morning News reported.
The Texas Department of Transportation reported that distracted driving (including talking to passengers, eating, grooming and adjusting the radio) caused more than 459 deaths and 18,500 injuries on Texas roadways in 2013. although cell phones only contributed to 5-7 percent of all crashes, according to KWHI 1280.
Currently, Texas has no statewide law banning the use of cell phones while driving, although many local areas prohibit or limit the use of cell phones while driving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
However, state law restricts drivers under the age of 18, drivers with learners permits, bus drivers, and all drivers traveling through a school zone from using cell phones.
In September, Breitbart Texas reported that State House Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) was planning to file a third round of proposed legislation during the upcoming 84th legislative session aimed at banning cell phone texting while driving in Texas.
In 2011 and 2013, Craddick’s attempts to create a statewide ban failed. The first, because Governor Perry vetoed the bill because “he he did not want government to micromanage behavior of adults” and the second “similar piece of legislation would have made texting while driving a misdemeanor but the legislation did not get very far since lawmakers knew Governor Perry opposed such a law,” also according to the Breitbart Texas article.
TxDOT said that texting was more of a distraction since it required a driver to take his eyes off the road more often. They noted that 23 cities have ordinances in place that prohibit texting while driving. On the list compiled in 2012 by the Texas State House of Representatives are Austin, which adopted its texting ban in 2009, and San Antonio, which instituted its restrictions in 2010.
Only 1.2 percent of the 30,800 fatal crashes nationwide in 2012 were attributed to cellphone use, the Dallas Morning News cited based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics.
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