It was big news when Austin passed strict hands-free traffic laws in August 2014 and enforcement began on January 1, 2015 (after a generous warning period). Well, the same ordinance was passed in Bee Cave on April 2 and in Lakeway on April 20. Warnings are being issued now, but as of July 1, violators will get citations.
Before the warning period in Lakeway and Bee Cave ends, we decided to delve into the specifics of what hands-free driving really means.
Buckle up, LT. You may be in for a few surprises.
Can you view a photo on your phone, because that’s not technically “texting?”
What if you’re stopped at a light? You’re not in motion, so that isn’t technically “driving” either.
No and no. You can’t be engaged in a call, reading articles, writing email, looking at pics, gaming, peeking at Facebook, tweeting, pinning or sending a winky face emoji on your cell phone or any hand-held device if you are operating a motor vehicle or a bicycle.
You can’t participate in a conversation with the phone held to your ear or in your hand while talking on speaker phone.
You can’t enter or change information in a navigation or GPS device while driving or stopped at a light.
You can’t hold your cell phone, period. Hands-free means hands-free.
According to the laws for Lakeway and Bee Cave, the definition of engaging in a call means dialing, talking, or listening on a hand-held mobile communication device. However; it does not include holding the device to activate or deactivate it from Bluetooth or affixed GPS.
Another caveat: You won’t be prosecuted if you are communicating with an emergency response operator about an emergency or medical emergency situation or summoning emergency help. Running late for a meeting or getting delayed in the Starbucks drive-thru is not a real emergency.
The laws are slightly different in the Lake Travis area, because in Austin you can use your device while stopped at a light. But that’s not going to fly as soon as you pass Stroup Circle or Oak Grove Blvd. headed towards Steiner Ranch. If you MUST make a call or text with a hand-held device while you’re out and about, you MUST park legally to do it. And in LT, being stopped in traffic doesn’t constitute being parked.
What can you use in your car? Bluetooth, headphones or an affixed GPS system.
If you get pulled over in violation of using a hand-held device in Lakeway, you’ll receive a moving violation with a fine of up to $100 and $500 for each subsequent offense. In Bee Cave, the penalty for violation is up to $500, just like it is in Austin.
Most drivers who get busted either deny it (“Me? I wasn’t on my phone!”) or offer far-fetched fabrications of the truth (“My phone flew out of my purse and landed in my latte, so I had to fish it out and then I was merely testing it to see if it would work…”) If a police officer sees you on your phone while driving — barring any of the exceptions we’ve listed above — you’re in trouble. This goes for drivers and cyclists.
In Austin, 900 tickets have been issued to people driving with a cell phone or other device in their hand since January 1. Yes, we have a texting problem. Sure, that quick message or phone call you need to make may seem like nothing, but driving distracted increases your chances of having an accident by 23 percent.
A study released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2012, 3,300 people were killed and 421,000 people were hurt in crashes involving distracted drivers. In 2013, more than 424,000 people were injured.
The warning period in Lakeway and Bee Cave ends on June 30 and enforcement officially begins on July 1. You can read the ordinance here for a complete list of details.
Now we’re all in the know, so drive safely, friends!