Cellphones and school zones don’t mix, authorities warn

Posted Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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What it will cost you

Passing stopped school buses: Up to $1,250 for a first offense. Repeat offenders face having their driver license suspended for up to six months and fines up to $2,000.

Using cellphones in a school zone: Average fine in Texas is $235 and vary by municipality.* This doesn’t apply to a hands free device, emergency calls or stopped a vehicle.

Speeding in school zone: Varies by municipality, but maximum is usually about $500.

*Local municipalities must install signs showing that cell phones are prohibited in school zones. If not, drivers can refute their tickets.

Start dates

Most school district begin classes Monday: Arlington, Azle, Birdville, Castleberry, Carroll, Crowley, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw, Fort Worth, Grapevine-Colleyville, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Keller, Kennedale, Lake Worth, Mansfield and Weatherford.

On Tuesday Burleson, Northwest and White Settlement start.

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Put the cellphones away and slow down in school zones — classes are starting back up this week.

If you don’t, be prepared to pay a hefty fine.

Hundreds of tickets are handed out across Texas during the first week of school for violations in or near school zones, said senior trooper Dub Gillum, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Fines for violations — from talking on a cellphone in a school zone to illegally passing a school bus — range from $200 to $1,250.

“The first week is hectic,” Gillum said. “It’s chaotic. It’s exciting, and for some kids it is scary. It’s a whole new thing.”

Gillum reminded motorists — including those dropping off their students at school — that there can be no texting or talking on cellphones in school zones. In fact, there should be no manipulating of electronic devices, he said.

“It’s called distracted driving,” Gillum said. “We want to pay attention 100 percent.”

The Arlington Police Department issued 307 tickets for improper use of a cellphone in a school zone last school year, Sgt. Jeffrey Houston said.

The fine for each of those tickets was $201.

Houston said the department will often send officers out to ride on buses and watch out for drivers passing by.

“Our goal is is to remind people that kids are happy and excited and not paying attention,” Houston said. “We should do that for them.”

Keller Police Chief Mark Hafner said his department has issued 17 tickets — at $204.10 a pop — for cellphone violations since October 2012.

Hafner said it’s easier to catch motorists driving past stopped buses because bus drivers can make reports to the department, while cellphone violations have to be caught by police on-site.

Gillum said some school buses have cameras that can capture drivers passing.

Authorities said the only time motorists can legally talk on the phone in a school zone is in the case of an emergency. And drivers can pass school buses when the signals are turned off, the bus takes off or the driver signals it’s OK to pass, according to the DPS.

However, if stopped for a violation, motorists can use their cellphones or other mobile devices to show proof of insurance.

Monica S. Nagy, 817-390-7792 Twitter:@MonicaNagyFWST Diane Smith, 817-390-7675 Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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