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Commentary: Nobody in Austin drives anymore

Should business-on-the-run be done on the road? Texting while driving is banned in Austin. What's next?
Should business-on-the-run be done on the road? Texting while driving is banned in Austin. What's next?
graur razvan ionut

Austin is a green hub, no doubt, and the League of American Bicyclists gives Austin a Silver Star for a Bicycle Friendly America (in a range from Bronze - Platinum). Even still, in our capital city, cars dominate the road.

As I drove around Austin recently I noticed something about these cars flooding our roads: the drivers in many of them seemed to be hardly driving at all.

Instead I saw drivers dialing, talking, listening, holding, and handling phones of all kinds at stoplights, on the highway, turning corners, and parking, sometimes parallel! Some were texting. Many were driving with one, or less, hands (the knee steer is always dicey).

I saw other distractions as well: eating, talking to passengers in the back seat, digging for something on the floor, and (gasp!) one woman putting on make-up.

I've done many of these things. Have you?

See: Tragic accidents that have brought this problem to light (no graphic pictures, I promise)

Never mind that some of these activities are illegal (see below). Let's pause for some statistics:

Cell Phones and Driving – A Dangerous Combination: What We Know About Cell Phone Driving***

  • OUCH: Likelihood of an injury crash increases by 4 times when driving while using a cell phone
  • DENIAL: Risk is raised irrespective of whether or not a hands-free device is used

Role of Mobile Phones in Motor Vehicle Crashes Resulting in Hospital Attendance, Suzanne P McEvoy, Mark R Stevenson, Anne T McCartt, et al - 2004

  • PARTY CAR: 80% of crashes and 65% of near crashes were the result of driver inattention
  • JUST ONE CALL: Cell phones were the #1 cause of this inattention

100 Car Naturalistic Study – Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, NHTSA - 2006

  • TALKING MAKES YOU DUMBER: Parietal activation (spatial processing in part of brain used for driving tasks) associated with driving decreases substantially by 37% with sentence listening.

  • TALKING TO YOURSELF (hands free): There is no difference in risk between hand held and hands free (hands-free cell phone use is as dangerous as hand-held cell phone use)
  • HOW MANY CALLS HAVE YOU HAD TODAY, SIR? Cell phone drivers have slower reaction times and were more likely to get in a crash than drunk drivers (at the .08 BAC level)

Comparison of the Cell Driver and Drunk Driver – Strayer, Drews, et al, University of Utah - 2004

***Adapted from the Texas Driving Concern… Dangers of Distracted Driving handout

Driving Legal
Current Texas Laws:

  • Learners permit holders are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving.
  • Drivers under the age of 17 with restricted licenses are prohibited from using wireless communications devices.
  • School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present.
  • Drivers prohibited from using handheld devices in school crossing zones.
  • Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Galveston, El Paso, Missouri City and Stephenville have enacted local distracted driving laws.

See the 2011 proposed legislation at Hands Free Info (Texas).

A Lawyer Speaks, Does Austin listen? This is the current Austin ordinance:

"A driver of a motor vehicle may not use a wireless communication device to view, send, or compose an electronic message or engage other application software while operating a motor vehicle."

The new ordinance does not prohibit talking or dialing a cell phone or engaging in the prohibited behavior while a vehicle is stopped, emergency situations or affect GPS interaction. To read the new ordinance please read ORDINANCE NO. 20091022-028.

I don't always listen to the statistics. Using the phone in the car seems like a good use of time for me. Texting...I have my scruples. Every time I even think of texting while driving I pause. It's not the ban that halts me, it's the fact that I look and feel like an irresponsible teenager doing it and if I ever hurt or killed someone doing it I could never live with myself. Oh yea, and then it comes with a hefty $500 fine for offenders.

Now, about the lady putting on her make-up...

~more photo credit: graur razvan ionut

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post script
After I wrote this story I went to the park with my kids to ride bikes and go to soccer practice. On the way home, one car yielded for us as we crossed a busy street; another did not. She almost hit my 5 year old son who then darted forward in terror. I looked up in time to see her pass 'around' us with hardly a nod about almost smashing him to bits. She had a cell phone to her ear.


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