2009-08-20 / Front Page

Hang Up or Suffer the Consequences

Beginning September 1, driving while talking on your cell phone in a school zone without a handsfree device will be against the law. House Bill 55, which was passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year, "Prohibits an operator of a motor vehicle from using a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle within a school crossing zone, unless the vehicle is stopped, the cell phone is used with a hands-free device, or there's an emergency."

Lexington mother Lisa Sandifer thinks the law is a good idea. She, like most of us, has seen plenty of motorists driving in school zones while talking on cell phones, and some of us are undoubtedly guilty of the practice.

"I think the new law is a great idea, since it specifically addresses the safety and wellbeing of our children. It's important that we, as drivers, not be distracted when we're driving, especially when we're driving where our children are most likely to be," said Sandifer.

Questions about the enforceability of the law have been raised by some people who say that the law makes it optional for cities and counties to install signs warning motorists about a $200 fine if cited for using their cell phones in a school zone. The argument states that without the signs, the law is unenforceable because the absence of signs is a defense against prosecution.

However, in Lexington, there will be no question about enforcing the law. Mayor Robert Willrich, Sr. told the Leader this week that Lexington will be putting up signs warning about the use of cell phones in school zones.

"I have been talking with our Police Chief Randy Davenport about this and he and I both agree that it is imperative, for the safety of our children, that we make everyone aware that this law is in effect," said Willrich.

According to the National Safety Council, people who use cell phones while driving are four times more likely to be in a crash. Their website states, "Driver inattention is a leading cause of traffic crashes, responsible for about 80 percent of all collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Considering crashes are the number-one cause of accidental death in the United States, it is important to pay close attention to our driving habits and those of other drivers."

Chief Davenport said, "It should be common sense not to talk on handheld cell phones while in the area of schools, especially during peak traffic times. Motorists should be alert when driving in school zones. Children sometimes become distracted and aren't paying attention to the traffic, especially when they are running to their parents' cars or their classrooms to retrieve books."

Another law takes effect September 1, 2009 in Texas, one banning teen drivers from using cell phones and text messaging devices.

There are already laws in effect that prohibit learners permit holders 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 and school bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present, effective September 1.

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