Austin may soon go 'hands-free'

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by TERRI GRUCA / KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 11:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 15 at 5:03 PM

AUSTIN -- The City of Austin plans to take action to get drivers to put both hands back on the wheel.

City leaders are considering making Austin a hands-free zone, meaning drivers must use a hands-free device to use cell phones while driving.

"We need the law to address what people are actually doing," said Bianca Bentzin, the chief prosecutor for the City of Austin.

About 700 people a year are ticketed for texting while driving in Austin. The texting ban took effect in January 2010. Some say the ordinance still isn't tackling the problem of distracted drivers. 

"That's the easiest way to address not only the problem, but to make it easier for police to enforce. Either you're holding your cell phone, or you're not,” said Bentzin. “Whereas now, you can't text, but you can do other things." 

The urban transportation committee was set to discuss these changes Tuesday night, but only three members showed up for the meeting – not enough to vote on any items. City council will have the ultimate say.               

"We can't outlaw everything that leads to distracted driving, but what we can do is address in the law known risks, such as electronic devices, that people are using while driving," Bentzin said.

The latest statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation show that in 2012 there were 3,291 accidents in which police cited cell phone use as the cause. 643 people suffered serious injuries and 35 people died.

Deaths have risen dramatically in the past five years. In 2007, only five people died in accidents where cell phones were to blame.

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