Austin City Council approves expanded texting ban

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by STEVE ALBERTS / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on December 17, 2009 at 7:18 PM

The Austin City Council Thursday unanimously voted on new restrictions that would eliminate a lot of cell phone use in the car.

“Don't use your cell phone while you're driving for anything else than making a phone call,” said Councilmember Laura Morrison.

That means no texting, no playing games or shuffling through songs, or even using your phone's GPS system -- unless it's mounted on the dash.  You can text when you’re stopped at a traffic light or in an emergency.

National studies have shown that texting behind the wheel is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. The change is intended to eliminate all distractions created by a phone except talking on it.

“It truly is about you doing everything you can to be as attentive as possible while driving your car,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Martinez.

Matt Simpson, a policy strategist with the ACLU, says there are already laws dealing with dangerous driving.

“We need a better and more common sense approach to dealing with texting while driving. What we really need is a public education campaign to change driver’s behaviors,” he said.

Police plan to enforce the ordinance by looking for distracted drivers but hope the law by itself will be a deterrent.

“I think the key to remember here is there is a big push to gain voluntary compliance,” said Al Eells, Assistant Chief. “The spirit is to drive safely and comply with the law.”

“There are going to be many people who know the law is going into effect and they will put their cell phones down and start paying more attention on driving,” Morrison said.

There will be a 30-day grace period before Austin police issue tickets.  Council has asked police to come back in six months with a progress report. The ban takes effect January 1, 2010.

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