Commuter Cat: What Happened To That Handheld Device While Driving Ban?

Screen shot 2015-07-06 at 4.17.05 PMDear Tabby,

Austin passed an ordinance that went into effect in January 2015 and bans vehicle operators from using handheld devices while driving or biking. As someone who walks, bikes, and drives, I was so relieved to have the ordinance! But time and time again, it seems like everywhere I turn people are still glued to their cell phones while driving. I’ve even seen a few close calls in traffic because one of the drivers was looking at a screen instead of the road. I’m starting to get pretty frustrated, and I want to know – is the Austin Police Department doing anything to enforce this ban?

Yours,

Frustrated Commuter

Dear F.C.,

I know how you feel; I’ve felt like shaking my paw at clueless drivers lately, too. We contacted APD to ask them about enforcement for this ordinance, and this is what they said:

“If an officer sees someone with a phone or device in their hand while driving, that’s a citable offense,” said Lisa Cortinas, a public information officer with APD. “We’re just trying to educate as many people as possible about being hands-free. The more people who know about it and understand the dangers, that’s an important part of the ban.”

The Municipal Court provided us with some hard numbers. In February, when they began issuing citations, the court shows that 557 citations were filed in the court. In March that number went down to 491; in April, 552, in May, 479, and in June, there were 364 citations. The good news is that in that short time frame there’s been a downward trend. So maybe drivers really are learning to be safer!

If other readers aren’t sure exactly what the new ordinance means, here’s Austin’s website on the hands-free law. And while there are no shortages of gruesome videos about the consequences of distracted driving, we really like this informative and funny video about going hands-free in Austin.

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