We all know that using a cell phone while driving is incredibly dangerous, and as such, at least 45 Texas cities have gone above and beyond by enacting more strict hands-free ordinances within their jurisdictions. In Austin, a city-wide ordinance was passed in August 2014 and went into effect on January 1st, 2015. As defined in the ordinance, it is unlawful to use portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle or bicycle within Austin city limits. Using a hands-free system such as Bluetooth, headphones, or an affixed GPS system is permissible. Unlike most other cities, Austin does permit drivers to use their devices while stopped at a red light.
Under the state law effective in September of 2017, Texas motorists could still talk on the phone while driving, if motorists have a “hands-free device” that only requires them to briefly touch the phone or use the car to begin or end a call. The measure doesn’t impact GPS systems or even music apps on cell phones. It’s important to note that this new law only addresses “reading, writing, or sending electronic messages” via a “wireless communication device.” It is still legal for motorists in most cities to use their phone for GPS navigation, music apps, dialing phone numbers, etc., but drivers may still get pulled over if an officer suspects them of texting.
While the law includes a provision to preempt local texting-and-driving ordinances which already existed in over 100 cities, it does not address stricter cell phone bans (i.e., hands-free laws) put in place by other Texas cities such as Austin, San Antonio, Denton, and El Paso.