Austin's new hands-free ordinance went into effect January 1st of this year, but police only issued warnings during the month of January to allow residents to get used to the law. Beginning today, February 1st, drivers and bicyclists will be subject to fines up to $500 if caught using an electronic hand-held device while operating a vehicle or bike.
The law defines a portable electronic device as the following hand-held devices: mobile phone, PDA, MP3 or other hand-held music player (i.e. an iPod), electronic reading device (i.e. a Kindle or Nook), a laptop computer, a pager, a broadband personal communication device, a GPS or navigation system, an electronic gaming device, or a portable computing device.
None of the above objects can be touched by a driver or bicyclist except at a complete stop or to call 9-1-1 to report a crime or accident. That means no phone calls, reading or sending of texting, looking at directions, etc. Drivers and bicyclists can still use a hands-free system such as Bluetooth or headphones, or an affixed GPS system.
The goal of the ban is to prevent distracted driving, which caused an estimated 421,000 injuries to people in motor vehicle crashes in 2012.
As the City of Austin says, focus on the road, the rest can wait.