A generation of texters will have to put away their cell phones or face legal consequences.
Last June, Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 55, which prohibits drivers from talking or texting while driving through a school zone, unless the vehicle is stopped or the driver is using a hands-free device. The Abilene Police Department started enforcing the law in early November after signs were placed around local schools.
The average university student probably isn’t aware of the new law, but because it is being enforced in school zones citywide, they need to be paying attention, said ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison.
“We all know why it’s intended; when you’re on the phone or texting, you’re obviously distracted, especially texting,” he said. “You just have to adjust to the fact that when you’re in a school zone, you can’t use that device for conversation or texting. You’re not disrupting your life’s routine; you’re just terminating a conversation.”
The new law is a class C misdemeanor, along the same lines as a speeding citation or a stop sign violation, with a fine of up to $500. Though there haven’t been many incidents related to cell phone use in Abilene school zones, distractions within the car are the root cause of almost all accidents, said Sgt. Doug Wrenn of the Abilene Police Department’s Traffic Division.
“Almost everybody talks on their cell phone when they’re driving – and college-aged kids are more prone to be using their devices in the car,” he said.
Edsel Hughes, elementary principal at Abilene Christian Schools, said the law’s effectiveness is yet to be seen. Although he said he is not aware of any previous accidents related to cell phone use, as a school administrator, he is strongly in favor of the law.
The law is only in effect when school is in session and during the hours listed on the school crossing sign. The law does not apply where no signs are posted or if the cell phone is used to make an emergency call.
James Elliott, senior organizational management major from Abilene, said, as a parent, he’s grateful for the law. However, he said this law should be just the beginning.
“I also think the government could have done more, like ban cell phone use in the mornings and afternoons altogether,” Elliot said. “A lot of kids don’t just walk straight to school; some of them have to walk a couple miles before they get to the school crossing zone.”