Starting in January, students could receive citations for talking on a cellphone while driving or biking — but only if they are stopped by an officer from the Austin Police Department, not UTPD.
City Council passed a new cellphone ordinance on Aug. 28, which bans the use of portable electronic devices while operating a vehicle or bicycle. The ordinance goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, and it strengthens the current law, which only prohibits texting. Drivers will still be able to use their devices hands-free if they’re stopped on the side of the road or in the case of an emergency.
The Council also added an exception that allows drivers to use their devices when stopped at a red light or stop sign. According to a statement from APD, violation of the ordinance will be a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, beginning in January 2015.
UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said unlike APD, UTPD does not enforce city codes, so UTPD officers will not be enforcing the new ordinance on campus.
“If we see someone driving erratically or doing something they shouldn’t, we can still issue them a citation,” Posey said.
Health promotion junior Kelly Boudain, who bikes around campus, said she thinks the ordinance is a good idea, but she is glad UTPD will not enforce it on campus.
“I think a lot of people talk on their phones or do other stuff when they’re driving, which is not very safe,” Boudain said. “I think [the ordinance] is a good idea, but [UTPD] would probably get a lot of people if they enforced it on campus.”
Boudain said although the ordinance makes sense for drivers, she’s not sure how much it applies to bicyclists.
“I never use my phone when I’m biking … I don’t really think it will have as much of an effect for bicyclists,” Boudain said.
Hannah Drake, applied learning and development sophomore, who uses her car to drive off campus frequently, said she thinks the new ordinance will help cut down on distracted driving.
“I use my phone almost every time I drive, for directions or listening to music,” Drake said. “I have been distracted by it, even just by looking down for a few seconds, so, hopefully, people will be safer now.”
UTPD still recommends that students be safe when biking or driving on campus, Posey said.
“We highly encourage people to be safe — while using or not using devices, in all modes of transportation — biking, walking, driving or skateboarding,” Posey said.