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Cell Phone Ban May Not Reduce Crashes

Updated: Friday, August 29 2014, 08:22 PM CDT

Put the cell phone down! It's not just a recommendation it will soon be the law in Austin.

That's good news for Bobby Petmecky.  His choice of transportation is his bike.  "I like it, it's fun to do and it makes me skinny," he laughed.

He's lost about 40 pounds since he started riding his bike, but his healthy habit can also be harmful.  "The worst part is people turning on a side street and they don't think to look that there's a bike lane right there next to them.  And I've ran into them a couple of times," he recalls.

He says those drivers were busy on their cell phones.  On Thursday, Austin city council made that illegal, passing a ban on all handheld use of electronic devices. 

"We do believe it is a step in the right direction," said Doug Shupe.  He's a spokesperson for AAA Texas.  He says the organization applauds the move, but warns, "Just because you are hands free doesn't necessarily mean risk free."

California may be a good example.  The state put a similar ban in place in 2008.  While observational surveys show handheld use of cells phones dropped, studies showed no significant decrease in the number of accidents.

One reason may be because there are a lot of other things that distract drivers, like the radio, personal grooming, and eating and drinking. 

Another issue is drivers' willingness to break the law if they think they won't get caught.  We see evidence of that when drivers speed, or drink and drive.  Despite knowing it's illegal they take a chance.  This was brought up at the public safety commission meeting when this ordinance was still in the draft phase.

Shupe summed up the problem, saying, "The bottom line is personal responsibility comes into play and drivers need to keep their eyes on the road, and their mind on what they're doing."

That includes Petmecky, because he and other cyclists are also prohibited from using handheld electronics.   That's okay with him as long as he and everyone else gets home safe.

There are a few exceptions to the ordinance.  You can use your phone with a hands free device like blue tooth.  You also can us them when stopped at a red light, a stop sign, or if you're at a standstill in traffic. It takes effect Jan. 1.

(Photo from Susan Plank/MGN Online.)

By Melanie Lofton

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Cell Phone Ban May Not Reduce Crashes

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