As of January 1st, 2010, drivers in Austin, TX cannot legally use cell phones for anything other than phone calls. That means no texting, no scrolling, no surfing, no navigating while driving on a public roadway unless you need to report an emergency.
There will be a one-month grace period, during which offenders will get off with a warning. After that, violations are Class C misdemeanors that could result in a $500 fine. Here are some answers to questions about the law.
How will the ban be enforced?
With difficulty. Officers will make stops based primarily on erratic driving, said Austin Assistant Police Chief Al Eells. Beyond that, police will have to catch a driver in the act to make a traffic stop. Because dialing a cell phone can look like texting, an officer will need to watch a driver for a “prolonged” period of time to make sure he’s actually texting, said Cmdr. Stephen Baker, who heads up Austin Police Department’s highway enforcement command.
Moreover, since the violation must also occur while the vehicle is moving, the observing officer essentially will have to be driving alongside a potential offender. Thus, for safety reasons, the opportunity to view driving-and-texting scofflaws will occur mainly in slower, city driving. “It’s going to be a lot of officer discretion,” Baker said.
What about the surfing/scrolling/e-mailing part of the ban: How will that be enforced?
Lightly. It will be difficult to distinguish whether a driver is, say, looking up a contact to dial (legal) or reading e-mail (illegal). “If a person is just holding a cell phone up in front of his face and reading it, we don’t make that stop,” Baker said. “There’s no way we’re going to be taking those to court.”
Will police take my cell phone and read my texts?
While prosecutors say such searches would be legal, Baker said Austin police won’t search anyone’s phone.
What if I’m from out of town and haven’t heard about the law?
Driver beware. Eells said the city will place informational brochures at places such as the airport and convention center. “Will that capture the guy traveling through Austin on I-35? Probably not,” he said.
Will anyone be arrested?
Not unless the driver refuses to sign a citation. A texting violation won’t go on the driver’s record, either.
How big is the problem locally?
Austin police report that since the beginning of the year, there have been 129 serious collisions in which cell phones have been implicated and 12 involving texting while driving.
Why is texting banned and not cell phones? Read the rest of this entry »
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