Understanding Austin's distracted driving policies

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You're driving on a quiet residential street in Austin, but you need to double-check that you are on the right route. You know that you shouldn't check your phone while you drive... but you only need to look at a map for a second or two. Do you pull out your phone?

Using a handheld electronic device like a smartphone or a tablet is not only dangerous but illegal. In 2015, the city of Austin adopted an ordinance that prohibits drivers from using handheld devices for any reason while driving. This includes texting, dialing a phone number, taking a selfie or using a navigation system. If law enforcement officers catch you doing any of these things behind the wheel, you could have some serious consequences on your plate. How serious? Let's go over the Austin's laws regarding distracted driving.

No handheld devices

Since January 1, 2015, Austin has completely banned the use of handheld electronics while driving or cycling. These devices include but are not limited to cellphones, tablets, laptops and navigation systems. In an emergency, however, it is acceptable to use a cellphone to dial 9-1-1 or 3-1-1.

Ending distracted driving

So what exactly counts as distracted driving? Technically, distracted driving is anything that diverts a motorist's attention from the task of driving. Most people think of texting when they think of distracted driving, but it can also include eating and drinking, talking to other passengers, checking a mirror or adjusting dashboard dials. It may not be possible to ban all of these activities, but Austin has made it clear that distracted driving caused by handheld electronic devices is strictly prohibited.

The consequences

If you are pulled over for distracted driving and it is your first offense in violation of the ordinance, you may be able to escape with a deferral agreement. This means that if you purchase a hands-free electronic device to replace your handheld one, the court may waive your fee.

Repeat offenders won't be so lucky. If caught texting while driving, there is a fine of up to $500. Not to mention, distracted driving can cause serious property damage and injuries. No electronic device is worth that risk.

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