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Austin's Hands-Free Fines to Start on Sunday

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News

This Sunday, the city of Austin will start ticketing drivers and cyclists who are texting or talking on their mobile phones without a hands-free device.

The Austin Police Department says they'll fine drivers up to $500, depending on several factors. For those who plead "no contest" and pay on time, the fine with court costs will total about $220.

The ordinance passed in August and took effect Jan. 1, and it does permit talking, texting and device use if a driver is stuck in traffic or at a red light, as long as the car is completely stopped. The ban extends to the use of GPS and navigation devices unless they are attached to a car or bike. Read the full ordinance here.

Austin driver Rachel Korzenny says she's been following the hands-free rule all along, so the upcoming fines don't deter her.

"I'm from Boston and California, so I've been hands-free for a while. I use my bluetooth," she says.

Graduate student Nolan Waggoner thinks the ordinance is "a smart thing to do." 

"Especially near campus, you see students walking around, not paying much attention," he says. "It's safer."

Waggoner says that he abides by the hands-free rules, using his phone on speaker while he's driving or just waiting until he reaches his destination.

Austin Police issued warnings to drivers throughout the month of January. The department says they didn't track these drivers, and therefore have no idea how many were pulled over this month.

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