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Austin Could Take Hands-On Approach to Distracted Driving by Banning Hands-Free

Austin City Council could expand its definition of distracted driving to include hands-free devices.

Austin already has a ban on textingbehind the wheel, but phones these days are labeled "smart" for a reason — they can text, tweet,  Snapchat and steer drivers toward a plethora other distracting drive-time activities.

But now the city is asking for advice on possible changes to its distracted driving ordinance. And it could adopt an all-encompassing ban on mobile phone use behind the wheel, including a ban on hands-free devices.

Edward Sledge is part of the advisory groupthat will present some recommendations to the Austin City Council this August. The 71-year-old former teacher says he's always been safety conscious, admitting that while many phones and devices feature potentially safer hands-free operations, they're hands-free only in name. 

GPS devices and Google Map-using phones, he says, may allow drivers to keep both hands on the wheel, but human error is always a part of the equation. 

"You don't want to be messing with it," says Sledge. "That's not hands-free! If you need to change your destination or your location, you need to stop to do that."

Sledge and the advisory group will ask City Council to completely prohibit the use of phones while driving, with a provision allowing drivers to use their phones in the event of an emergency.

In today's world, where phones are so intrinsically related to every minute of people's lives, Sledge says only tougher laws and stiff penalties could make people rethink their behavior.

Studies have found drivers do in fact change their behavior during the first couple of months of phone use bans but then revert back to previous, phone-using driving habits shortly after.

The City Council will consider revising the ordinance next month. 


Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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