CONTACTTRAFFICABOUT TOM VANDERBILTOTHER WRITING CONTACT ABOUT THE BOOK

No Phones In School Zones

I’m currently in Texas, and just heard an item on the radio about a curious new law: That it’s illegal to use a (hand-held) cell phone in a “school zone.”

And, as an article by Ben Wear (who was on my panel back at the Texas Book Festival last year) in the Statesman notes, cities like Austin now have to (or don’t, it’s still a bit up in the air) post signs alerting drivers to the presence of this law, otherwise police cannot enforce.

Robert Spillar, the City of Austin’s transportation director, said the city has not set aside money for the signs. Nonetheless, it will begin installing them this fall, starting with elementary schools. It could take two years to get them all up, he said.

“I don’t see how we can not put them up,” Spillar said. He said he isn’t sure the mere presence of signs will change driver behavior, and said some sort of education program might be necessary to get the message across. “It’s an unfunded mandate that has our backs against the wall. We can’t enforce it if the signs aren’t up.”

This is the first I’d heard of such a particular distinction being made in a particular zone, and I’m having trouble seeing the reasoning, or the safety impact. The first thought that jumps to mind is that a driver on a cell-phone is hardly likely to pick out a “no cell-phone” sign, much less expeditiously hang up their call as they approach. The second is that signs warning of “school zones” themselves, while a bit better — particularly when backed up flashing lights — than the ubiquitous (and absolutely ineffectual) “Slow Children” signs that are not officially recognized by engineers, tend to be little regarded as well, at least based on various tests in which drivers were still found to be routinely exceeding the speed limit; typically it’s the parent bringing their kids to the very same school. The entire concept of “School Zones” is a bit wanting, really, prone to driver and legal confusion, not to mention that it raises that eternal question: One is supposed to drive slowly and attentively on this stretch past a school, but it’s then OK to accelerate to higher speed a block later (a block on which there may be just as many children)?

And then, on the cell phone issue, we’re again making odd distinctions: We’re admitting that cell phones are a hazard to use when driving around groups of children at schools, but somehow OK when driving among groups of pedestrians or cyclists or children on the blocks in front of their homes — or in fact every other car on the road? And that it’s OK for drivers to zip past schools while talking on their hands-free-not-brain-free unit?

And then there’s the aesthetic blight of all the extra signage — more signs for drivers to ignore — not to mention all the money going to put the signs up, just so a law can be enforced; it seems rather ridiculous that if a state law is passed declaring it illegal to use cell phones in a school zone, one would have to expensively repeat that statement at every already marked school zone. After all, we don’t feel the need to erect signs announcing that driving while impaired is illegal, in school zones or anywhere else.

As always, any experiences or technical clarifications welcome.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 at 5:14 pm and is filed under Congestion, Risk, Roads, Traffic Culture, Traffic Enforcement, Traffic Engineering, Traffic safety, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “No Phones In School Zones”

  1. John Says:

    Mr. Obama, are you reading this website? How about a Federal law– only hands-free devices allowed (recognizing that, although brain-free i.e. potentially distracting, no more so than talking with a passenger). Be done with all the confusion and lateral heirarchy.

    And, to enforce this, since there will not be enough police to observe, let us tell on each other with a dedicated _11 number, not only for handheld cellphones, but for ANY bad driving habits. Just call and report a license plate. If there were a hundred calls per day on this plate, law enforcement would take special interest.

    Roads would become much safer within a few years.

  2. Ian Turner Says:

    Tom, you missed one more piece of confusion: Why ban use of handsets but permit hands-free devices? There’s no evidence of a safety difference between the two.

    John, there is evidence that speaking on a hands-free is more dangerous that speaking with a passenger, because a passenger is aware of the road context and the conversation can naturally pause as necessary. A phone conversion does not have this advantage, so that the other party may (for example) continue to talk even while there is something on the road that requires the driver’s attention.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

  3. geografree Says:

    Happy to report that NZ has just banned handheld mobile phones in cars. (hands-free is still allowed.) About time.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10590719

  4. Botswana Meat Commission FC Says:

    Great post! This is just the epitome of bad government policy.

    The question I have is WHY? Why don’t Texas’ traffic engineers speak up? And it’s not only on this specific issue, but in other areas like roundabouts and using narrower roads to slow down drivers. Why does it seem like the actual engineers in state and county governments are so… ignorant?

    I’m genuinely curious about this. Are the people working in government just way behind the times? Or are they actively hostile to doing things in new ways? Do they just get ignored by elected leaders? What is it?

  5. John Says:

    My cynical side wonders if cell phone use is illegal for pedestrians since they’re the ones getting in the way of cars. At least that seems to be Gov. Perry’s attitude.

    Given that speed limits aren’t enforced in school zones I can’t imagine a cell phone ban would be too. :-(

    John in Austin

  6. George Says:

    John,
    Being primarily a pedestrian (time wise) for the last nine years, I see that cars are always getting in my way not the other way around.

    I live near a school where most parents are afraid to let their kids walk to school. The cars that speed near the school (and elsewhere) are the very same parents. Go figure.

    George

  7. Christian Sinclair Says:

    Another option with possibly much more efficiency is to have the school staff teach the children that drivers talking on the cell phone (anywhere) is a dangerous thing to do for everyone in the car. (It could be part of road safety/awareness/bike safety etc.

    Parents getting scolded by their kids changed a behavior at a local KC school when the kids were taught idling cars (from parents waiting to pickup their kids) makes the air unhealthy around the school. The kids educated the parents and voila no more idling outside the school.

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