Driving is an incredibly popular yet inherently dangerous activity. To operate a vehicle safely requires your full attention. Anything that takes the focus off the road can lead to an accident. This includes things like eating, looking at your navigation system, talking on your cell phone, or even having a heated conversation with a passenger.
By the numbers, distracted driving causes over 3,000 deaths per year. Texting while driving is the most troubling of all forms of distracted driving. It reportedly takes your attention off of the road for at least 5 seconds. For that reason, a number of states and cities are passing regulations aimed at cracking down on this form of distracted driving.
The Hands-Free Law in Austin
The city of Austin passed an ordinance to curb distracted driving-related accidents in 2015. The ordinance prohibits the use of electronic hand-held devices while driving a car or operating another vehicle, such as a motorcycle or motorhome. Failure to comply with the law can result in a fine of up to $500. Things can get worse if you get into a car accident in Austin while texting.
Included in the definition of hand-held devices are cell phones, laptops, personal digital assistants, music players, GPS/navigation systems, gaming devices and pagers. Unpermitted use of these electronics includes any activity that requires the driver to touch the device. Examples would be dialing phone numbers, viewing images, browsing websites, sending or reading texts, and playing games.
However, the ordinance does allow for the use of these devices in cases of emergency. But, the driver would be required to first bring the vehicle to a complete stop before engaging with the device.
Now, it is important to note that this law does not apply to passengers. Further, hands-free devices used by the driver are permitted. An example would be a cell phone call connected through Bluetooth and utilizing the vehicle’s speakers.
Additional Texas Laws on Distracted Driving
The state of Texas has also made efforts to reduce distracted driving. In 2017, the state passed a law that completely bans texting while driving. Further, the law states that if a texting-related accident results in death or serious bodily injury, the texter can be charged with a misdemeanor. The misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 or up to one year of jail time.
It is important to note that this law only applies to reading, writing, or sending electronic messages. This means that it does not regulate other forms of distracted driving, such as using a GPS system or talking on the phone.
Keep in mind that the law places a few other limits on the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle. Drivers are not allowed to use hands-free devices in school zones. Further, drivers under the age of 18 and school bus drivers are prohibited from using cell phones for calls or texts, even hands-free devices.
Distracted Driving Laws in Los Angeles
Similar to Texas, California has passed a few laws related to distracted driving. Except in cases of emergency, California drivers may not use hand-held devices while driving. The fine for violation of this statute ranges from $20-$50. However, note that these violations do not result in points being added to your driving record.
Now, drivers in California are generally permitted to use hands-free devices. The exception would be if you are under 18 years of age. Minors are completely barred from using cell phones while driving. There is also a separate law that bans texting while driving. Fines for violating this statute start at $20.
Comparison of Distracted Driving Laws
As you can see, states are grappling with the question of how to encourage distraction-free driving. Many have passed laws to punish distracted driving, using both fines and even jail time in some cases. The main variation across state lines appears to be the severity of the punishment.
At present, the city of Austin and the state of Texas have stricter regulations than California. In fact, the fines for using hand-held devices in Austin are nearly tenfold higher than in Los Angeles. Further, Texas has a much harsher criminal penalty if an accident results from a driver texting.
Now, given the number of drivers on the road in Los Angeles, there is a lot at stake with simply maintaining the status quo. Instead, motorists could benefit from stricter penalties like those enacted in Austin and Texas. These laws would help deter dangerous and potentially deadly distracted driving behaviors.