Cell Phone Usage Risks & Laws in Austin and Texas
Did you know that talking on a cell phone while driving can make you four times as likely to have a motor vehicle accident? Researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have found that three out of four drivers have committed traffic violations while talking on a cell phone and nearly 70% of all drivers surveyed admitted to using a cell phone while driving in the previous 30 days.
Using a cell phone while driving can be a distracting and dangerous practice; the National Safety Council has found that cell phone usage results in 1.3 million crashes annually. In 2010 alone, the state of Texas reported cell phone usage resulted in 3,387 crashes; 3,023 deaths; and economic costs to society in excess of $20 billion.
Many states, including Texas, have sought to limit or outlaw certain uses of handheld devices while driving, such as cell phones, in an effort to limit distractions. Most of these legal limitations relate to texting while driving, but some laws go further in an effort to limit the potential for distracted driving.
Distracted driving can be defined as the act of driving while engaged in other activities that take the driver’s attention away from the road such as cell phone usage, texting, eating or reading. Cell phone usage has been documented as the number one distraction for drivers of all ages. In fact, distracted drivers:
- Miss a lot of information they would normally be processing
- Have slower reaction times
- Often have trouble remaining in their lane
- Miss important visual cues such as red lights, stop signs and exits
Distracted Driving Laws in Austin and Texas
In October of 2009, the city of Austin passed a city-wide distracted driving law that banned texting while driving. Two months later, the law was broadened further to include other mobile devices and includes engaging in email, all Internet surfing, the use of all iPhone applications, and/or adjusting music settings. The ban took effect in January 2010 and includes fines up to $500. There are some exceptions to the ban including:
- Making a cell phone call
- Using navigational system or wireless devices permanently installed in a vehicle;
- Texting because a life is in danger or to respond to some other emergency.
In addition to the distracted driving law in Austin, all drivers in the state of Texas are prohibited from using wireless devices under the following circumstances:
- If the drivers are under the age of 18
- If the drivers have Learners Permits and are within their first six months of driving
- If the driver is a school bus driver and is driving while children are present
- If any driver is driving in a school crossing zone
While all of these laws have been passed to alleviate distractions while driving, and to keep everyone safer, the argument could be made that the best strategy would be for all drivers to avoid using their cell phones while driving whenever possible.