Houston remains parked as Austin bans use of cellphones while driving
There’s no denying that cellphones play a huge role in the current age. They are a lifeline to the outside world, and one has the benefit of the Internet at their fingertips.
The downside: people are glued to their phones when walking down the street, eating dinner and even while driving, but the latter may change very soon.
According to an article by the Houston Chronicle, using a handheld device while driving will be made illegal in Austin beginning January 2015. The Austin City Council said the ban will not be limited to cellphones, but will include other handheld devices such as navigation devices and music players.
Furthermore, this ban is not limited to motor vehicles; statesman.com said the ban will be enforced towards bicyclists as well.
As said in KXAN news, Deputy City Manager Michael McDonald outlined the decision to the mayor and the city council.
“The new ordinance should make it illegal to use a portable electronic device while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle in the active travel lane,” McDonald said. “The ban should apply to vehicles in motion as well as those stopped at traffic control devices.”
However, it is important to note that there will be certain exceptions to the rule. The Houston Chronicle reported that the use of hands-free GPS systems will still be permitted, as will the use of using a cellphone in cases of an emergency.
“The restriction of cellphones while driving would allow the driver to have more attention to their surroundings, possibly lowering collisions or accidents on the road,” said pre-pharmacy and health promotions junior Shannon Varghese.
This ban, while it may take some getting used to, will benefit drivers in the long run. No longer will one be forced to drive slowly behind another vehicle because its owner is paying more attention to their device than the road, and soon this ban will reduce the amount of fatalities on the road caused by drivers not focusing on what they are doing.
Austin is not the first Texas city to implement this ban.
A 2012 report put together by the Texas House of Representatives showed that a number of cities — including Galveston, San Antonio and Tomball — banned the use of cellular telephones while operating a motor vehicle. The question that now arises is whether this ban should be incorporated into the Houston law.
This debate is not one that has recently been raised; it is one that has been going on for a few years now. In 2010, there were over 3,000 people killed in accidents related to distracted driving, according to an article by the Houston Public Media.
In 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board requested a nationwide ban in cellphone usage whilst driving. Three years later, the ban has not been put into place.
In the aforementioned Houston Public Media article, online defensive driving course instructor Kent Bissell said that the majority of the public does not agree with the National Transportation Safety Board’s proposed ban because it is a matter of privacy.
“A lot of people say, ‘Hands-off my cellphone and my car. That’s my private time. You can’t tell me what to do, government,'” Bissell said. “But the fact of the matter is if you’re in the vehicle next to me and you’re texting, I’d rather know you’re focused on driving so you don’t run into me.”
This argument would have been relevant when in 2011 when the article was released; however, the importance of implementing this law now is more important than before, especially given the rapid rate at which technology is developing. It is even more important for high school and college students given their addiction to technology, combined with their knack for speed and irresponsibility while driving.
Operating a motor vehicle is one of the most dangerous things one can do, and maneuvering this vehicle should be a driver’s sole focus. Using a cellphone while driving is a horrible distraction, one that causes many horrible accidents and deaths, and yet people still choose to use them. Houston needs to enforce a law that prevents individuals from using their phone or any other handheld device while driving. The sooner this ban is put into place, the quicker it can eliminate any future fatalities.
Opinion columnist Trishna Buch is a print journalism senior and may be reached at [email protected].