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Whether drivers choose to abide by them or not, the existence of speed limits is undeniable. Though signs are posted on virtually every road, they can be easily overlooked; however, mistakenly driving into a school zone is no easy task, as the bright yellow and white (sometimes flashing) signs are difficult to miss.
Drivers must slow to the speed listed on the sign during posted hours or risk paying a fine considerably higher than in other areas, unless more severe punishment is served. To reduce the risk of accidents, Texas legislature has recently passed a new set of laws that will directly affect pedestrians and drivers in school zones.
Paris is home to several schools districts, sectioning areas of town into various school zones. The speed limits for each zone vary depending on the location of the school. In those near multi-lane roads or not in proximity to residential neighborhoods, the speed limits are usually a bit higher, which is the case with Paris High School and all of Chisum ISD.
Elementary schools, usually set farther away from major roads, generally have lower speed limits ranging from 15 to 20 mph. Some school zones contain pedestrian crosswalks, but drivers should be mindful of anyone near the street, adult or child, outside of designated crossing areas.
In an effort to encourage drivers to abide by the school speed limits, the Paris Police Department has implemented the use of a radar trailer. This mobile device, which Police Chief Bob Hundley said has been in use for four to five years, makes rounds to different schools nearly every day.
“So that’s still there…doing the same thing a police officer does, is just to attract that attention that you’re speeding,” said Hundley. “You know, watch your speed in this area because it’s flashing at you.”
Though school zone hours are generally active during the times in which children are more likely to be outside (usually an hour before and after school begins and ends), drivers should always be attentive. In most areas, the times during which the speed limits are in effect are posted on the sign, but in other areas, the speed is reduced as indicated by a flashing light. Hundley urged extra caution on the roads that run east to west during the morning hours, when visibility is compromised.
“It’s that we’re approaching that time of year that as the sun rises, it is right in your eyes,” he said. “I’ve seen people driving, holding a hand up, visors down… It’s one of those deals that we try to point out, that when you’re faced in that situation, slow down so that you can see where you’re going and also so you can see if any kiddos are in the street.”
According to Hundley, violators must pay a minimum of $135, plus an increase of $1 per mile over the posted limit.
As of Sept. 1, Texas drivers also face stricter laws concerning the use of cell phones and stopping for school buses. Both changes come as extensions of preexisting laws. Previously, cell phone use was prohibited simply while in a school zone. In other words, the space between the signs. The new law states that no driver can use a cell phone in any fashion while on school property. This means no talking, text messages, emails, or internet usage while on the road, in a school parking lot or pick-up/drop-off zone.
“You can’t use cell phones on school property,” said Hundley. “The reason why they changed that: I’m driving up and down the school zone is bad enough, but if I actually pull up on the driveway going up to where I’m going to drop the child off, pick up the kid or whatever, I could be just as distracted on a cell phone on a parking lot as I can be on the street.”
Though most signs state that the fine for using a cell phone inside a school zone can be up to $200, Hundley stated that it can be up to $500, as determined by a judge. The only exception to the law is in emergency situations, which applies to both drivers and police officers.
Another change Texans face is the fine increase for the failure to stop for a school bus loading or unloading children. When a school bus stops, red lights begin to flash and stop signs (what Hundley referred to as “stop arms”) extend from the side of the bus. According to Texas law, drivers on both sides must stop for a school bus when the road is only divided by a left turning lane; however, if the lanes are separated by a space or barrier, only those going in the same direction as the bus are required to stop. The new law increased the minimum fee for violators from $1,000 to $1,250. The fine is higher for repeat offenders.
First and foremost, traffic laws exist to generate awareness and promote public safety. With the installment of these new laws comes the hope that drivers will be encouraged to be more mindful of their surroundings and be free from distractions.
“The whole idea on this is to try to make the school zone safer for kids, and the biggest problem that people have while driving is being distracted, and so when you have speed limits that are set lower, that’s to create some attention,” said Hundley. “If you have laws about not speaking on a cell phone, not texting…this is to try to make sure that the driver understands that they’re in an area where there are hazards and you’ve got to be more aware while you’re in that particular area.”
Below is a list of various local campuses and their corresponding speed limits:
Paris Independent School District
Aikin Elementary: 20 mph
Justiss Elementary: 20 mph
Travis Junior High School: 20 mph
Crockett Intermediate School: 20 mph
Paris Junior High School: 30 mph
Paris High School: 55mph and 35 mph off South Loop 286; 30 mph on side road.
North Lamar Independent School District
Frank Stone Middle School and Bailey Intermediate School: 20 mph
Everett and Higgins Elementary School: 15 mph on school grounds; 20 mph during designated hours.
North Lamar High School: 20 mph
Chisum Independent School District
Chisum Elementary, Middle and High Schools: 35mph on Highway 19/24; 20 mph on bus road.
Paris Junior College: 25 mph
By Courtney McNeal, eParisExtra