Austin already has a ban on texting behind 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 group that 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.