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Austin's new handsfree law goes into effect Jan 1. 2015.

Austin passes a new hands-free law to help protect against the dangers of distracted driving

Austin's new handsfree law goes into effect Jan 1. 2015.In the wake of the many injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving (an estimated 421,000 people in 2012), many cities and states are passing hands-free laws to help protect the safety of their residents. Austin is now among that list, having recently adopted Ordinance No. 20140828-041, which makes it illegal to operate portable electronic devices while driving a car or riding a bike.

Prohibited devices include cell phones, PDAs, mp3 players, e-readers, portable computers, pagers, GPS systems, electronic games, or any other type of portable communication or computing devices. However, drivers can still utilize hands-free systems and permanently fixed GPS systems. There is also an exception for calls to 911 or 311 to report an accident or a crime, but drivers are highly encouraged to pull over and stop before making these calls if at all possible.

State-wide laws currently only ban cell phone use by new drivers, drivers under 18, those driving in school zones, and bus drivers. However, shortly after Austin passed its hands-free law, San Antonio followed suit. Other Texas cities such as Houston and Dallas still have yet to pass hands-free legislation.

Austin’s new hands-free law goes into effect on January 1, 2015. After this date, driving while operating these types of portable electronic devices will be a citable offense, with a fine of up to $500. The city hopes that this new hands-free law, like the ban on texting while driving that is already in place, will help cyclists and those operating motor vehicles to focus and pay more attention to their surroundings, ultimately resulting in fewer injuries and fatalities.

Distracted driving endangers not only the driver operating the electronic device, but other drivers, passengers, cyclists, pedestrians, and even bystanders. With the numerous accidents and deaths each year caused by distracted driving, passing this ordinance in Austin is definitely a step in the right direction. So far there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the new law. Let’s just hope that the momentum continues and that the law will be strictly enforced after it goes into effect so that the streets of Austin will be safer for all.

Bicycle Ban on Texas Toll Roads Before the TXDOT Commission Today

Today with Preston Tyree, Bicycle Sport Shop owner Hill Abel, Eileen Schaubert-cycling extraordinare, organizer, cycling instructor and all around amazing woman, Tom Wald of Bike Austin and Robin Stallings and Leslie Lucaino of Bike Texas, among others gathered at the TXDOT Commission hearing to attempt to stop an all out ban on toll roads in Texas. The proposed ban before going into effect was allowed public input and commentary and people came from as far as Dallas and Tyler.

This is from the Bike Texas Website relating to Bike Texas’ concerns about the ban and is a good summary of why allowing cyclists on shoulders of toll roads is the right thing to do: “Some of our concerns about a comprehensive bicycle ban from toll roads are: Riding a bike on the shoulder of a highway is the last place most people would want to be, but there is often no alternative accommodation; Some toll roads do not have service roads attached and may be the only access to a location; Many Texas toll roads have low traffic volumes and few conflict points, and thus are safer than their alternatives; Many Texas toll roads are in rural areas without the traffic volumes associated with urban toll roads. Such a sweeping policy from TxDOT sets a dangerous precedent for the future and does not allow any latitude in accounting for differences in regions, traffic volumes, and alternative accommodations across Texas. – See more at: http://www.biketexas.org/news/action-alerts/1526-action-alert-contact-txdot-to-prevent-a-bike-ban#sthash.12vmYx57.dpuf”

Our points to the commission were primarily that since we allow Texans to text and drive despite the over 3,000 deaths on Texas roadways due to texting and driving we should allow Texas cyclists to decide when it is safe and where it is safe to ride.

The commission seemed to have made up their mind before the commission even convened. The interesting thing about this mornings “Agenda” with the Commish is they did not seem to hide the result oriented hearing on every item on the agenda which was obviously a pre-determined outcome. Serious Texas Politics happening at TXDOT.

The ban will affect all toll roads, Austin, Tyler, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, this is wherever TXDOT controls toll roads.

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