Austin police ticket drivers violating hands-free ordinance

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Your next commute could be an expensive one if you don’t follow Austin’s new hands-free law. On Sunday, police started handing out tickets. Police give a hefty fine to anyone caught texting, Tweeting, or talking on their phone while driving or cycling.

The new law went into effect on Jan. 1. In December 2014, City of Austin officials unveiled a public service announcement and urged drivers and bicyclists to practice safety on the road. KXAN joined Austin police Sunday as several drivers learned their lesson the hard way.

“Up, she just put it down, but I got the stop on her, so…” Officer Travis Franklin said as he caught a driver on their phone. Franklin is enforcing the hands-free ordinance by pulling over anyone he sees using a handheld device behind the wheel.

“Usually, they try to deny it,” Franklin said. “Some of them admit it.”

Police say they have seen more and more accidents caused by distracted driving each year, which has officers stepping up enforcement of the new law in February.

“As long as you’re using it hands-free, you’re OK to use it,” Franklin said.

Jonathan Johnston tried to make a call while driving Sunday. Although he tried to hang up “abruptly,” Franklin greeted him with flashing lights.

“I’ll know going into the future, and I won’t be on my phone quite as much,” Johnston said after receiving a ticket.

For drivers and cyclists who’ve become accustomed to using handheld devices for GPS, texting and talking — those days are officially over. Anyone found in violation will receive a class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.

Austin police say 10 people have died in crashes within city limits this year. Two were connected to drivers being distracted by electronic devices, APD said Sunday. The number of Austin traffic deaths is much higher than at the same time in 2014, when only three people had died in car crashes.

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