If you aren't a big follower of what goes on in the Texas State Legislature, you may not have heard about three new laws that affect driving with cell phones, or with younger children. In fact, since the fall of 2009, cell phone usage in school zones has been severely restricted as has usage by those under the age of 18.
In school zones, it is now a statewide law that unless the vehicle is stopped, or a handsfree device is used, drivers may not operate cell phones. This applies to buses as well as any other vehicles operating within the school's area as marked by local municipalities.
Exceptions to this new law are if the cell phone is used to make a call to an emergency service provider, including a family doctor. The citation can also be defended in court if the town or city failed to provide markings of the school zone. Other exemptions are available for first responders such as police or emergency services personnel, as well as telecommunications employees who are using the frequencies for work-related activities.
However, it's important to keep in mind that while the local government is responsible for putting up signs that are visible by drivers, Texas residents should be mindful that they could be obscured by foliage or other means. Limiting cell phone use near schools may be the safest way to avoid a ticket and the need to attend a Texas driving school to limit points.
Another law that was passed in the last session of the state legislature affects younger drivers aged 18 or less. They are unable to use a cell phone or other mobile communications device except in the case of emergency. This is now a part of the curriculum at all Texas driving schools, but represents an additional regulation that new drivers must follow in the first year after they get their initial license in addition to other so-called "Cinderella" rules regarding the number of passengers of a certain age, and a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m.
Additionally, seatbelt laws now reflect the national "Click It or Ticket" mentality that has frequently seen agencies throughout the country monitor passengers and drivers for effective safety measures. Now, all occupants in passenger vehicles must wear a seatbelt while a motor vehicle is being operated, not just the driver and front-seat passengers. The law has no exemptions for age, although some exceptions, such as for certain buses or taxis, do exist.
Finally, the same parents that are driving in a school zone that will want to avoid using a cell phone without a hands free device will also want to make sure that children under the age of 8 or smaller than 4 foot, 9 inches in height are secured in a proper child safety seat. The legislature passed new laws mandating a first offense fine of $25 and additional offenses will be met with $20 fines.