By Graham Sutliff
As everyone from Austin now probably knows, one is no longer allowed to use a phone while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle. This rule stems from the Austin City Council’s adoption of Ordinance No. 20140828-041. This law went into effect on January 1, 2015.
Ignorance is not a defense to a violation, but unfortunately the penalties do not amount to preventing all of the people currently moving to Austin from being banned from doing so. Instead, the fine can be up to $500.00.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to get off your phone while you are driving, consider this: numerous studies reveal that distracted driving can be more dangerous than drunk driving. Let me repeat that in a different way.
Making a phone call to a friend or texting/e-mailing while you are driving, can me more dangerous than ponying up to the bar on West Sixth Street, ordering and taking five Jager Bombs and getting behind the wheel.
Why is that?
Texting while driving slows, among other things, one’s perception reaction time. A study has shown that it slows one’s perception reaction time by 35%. A study also shows that holding a phone and talking on it with one hand and holding the wheel with the other hand slows perception reaction time by almost 46%.
By comparison, studies show that some drunk drivers’ perception reaction time is slowed by 12%. Interpretation? Austinites may have a better chance of dodging idiots who drink and drive than individuals who just can’t wait to send that text or make that call.
Studies also show that a texting driver may tend to slow down while tapping on the phones’ keyboards, but texting typically requires one to have both eyes on the phone rather than the road. And this in turn means greater likelihood of drifting to other lanes and potentially putting other drivers in danger. Drunks behind the wheel typically at least try to keep both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel.
Per the U.S. government, 3,154 people were killed and approximately 424,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013. The numbers were probably much higher as it is hard to be precise with the data. It is certainly true that this number is only growing with the popularity of cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram.
The Austin City Council is often criticized for its rules and regulations. But it should be commended for its hands free initiative.
Austin is leading the State of Texas in discouraging distracted driving.
Why the rest of the state has not followed suit is a mystery. Some things, unfortunately, just take a lot of time and convincing.
Hopefully that convincing will not be in the form of more needless deaths and injuries at the hands of a distracted driver. No bosses’ demands, no wife or girlfriend’s requests, and no friend’s gossip is more important than the safety of the citizens on our roadways. It can wait. Put down your damn phone and drive!