UPDATE ON CELL PHONES IN SCHOOL ZONES
Recently passed legislation, H.B. 55, makes it a state offense to use a cell phone in a school zone under some circumstances. The bill makes the use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle within a school crossing zone a class C misdemeanor, unless the vehicle is stopped or the device is being used in a hands-free mode. Further, the bill requires a city that enforces the prohibition to post a sign that complies with standards adopted by the Texas Department of Transportation at each school crossing zone in the city in order to inform an operator of a motor vehicle of the prohibition (the TxDOT standards must provide that the sign can be attached to an existing sign). The bill also provides that the prohibition does not apply to an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle if the operator is using the device in an official capacity, or to a radio frequency device operator who is licensed by the Federal Communications Commission. Finally, the bill provides for the preemption of all city ordinances that are inconsistent with specific provisions of the bill.
City officials have questioned whether the bill requires a city to install signs, or if it gives a city the option to do so. City attorneys throughout the state have reached different conclusions on this question. One thing is reasonably certain, however: the bill provides no penalties or enforcement methods against cities that choose not to install signs (or are unable to do so because of budget or economic conditions). Further, a city may not enforce the bills cell phone ban unless signs are posted.
Cities that install signs may view information about the TxDOT-approved sign format at the following link: ftp://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/library/pubs/gov/sign/5_em_school.pdf.