November 01, 2007
Hang up and drive in school zones

The Dallas suburb of Highland Park wants to ban cellphone use while driving through school zones.

If the proposal is approved next month, officials say it would be the first time that a city in Texas has taken the step of legislating cellphone use for drivers. And that's only the beginning - Mayor Bill White said if the ban passes, it could eventually be expanded citywide.

"Let's see how it works from an educational standpoint," he said. "You've got to walk before you run."

Yes, Highland Park's Mayor is also named Bill White. Your eyes are not deceiving you, and our Mayor is not moonlighting - at least, he's not moonlighting there.

The ban would restrict drivers from using cellphones while they pass through one of 12 school zones surrounding three schools in Highland Park. The restrictions would apply only while the zones are active, during the morning and for a period in midafternoon. The use of hands-free cellular devices would be allowed.

The proposal will be reviewed by two city committees, including one Thursday, before the council is expected to consider it Nov. 12. But town officials, parents and residents say they're in favor of the ban.

Council member George Reynolds said he hasn't seen the proposal but he hasn't heard any objections to it.

"I'm highly in favor of it, and I think it's something we absolutely need to do," he said. "I think people will be happy that we're doing this."

If such a proposal were to pass, Highland Park would be treading where few entities have gone.

In Southlake, the Carroll school district asks parents to turn off phones in pickup and drop-off lines at schools. But as an ordinance, Highland Park's ban would have legal teeth, enforceable by a fine.

Meanwhile, banning drivers' cellphone use has been considered by other Texas cities, including Rowlett, which took up the issue this spring. But none have passed any ordinances.

Proposed statewide bans have failed multiple times, although the Legislature did pass a law in 2005 barring cellphone use by teenage drivers during the first six months after they receive their license.

Highland Park's ban would apply only to school zones within the town, not those in neighboring University Park, where there are several schools in the Highland Park district, including Highland Park High School.

I have no problem with this, though best I recall the main issue with talking while driving is one of mental distraction and not of having two hands on the wheel. In other words, the hands-free devices don't really help that much. It's probably easier to pass a ban that includes this loophole, however. I expect that this is a first step and not a final destination. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 01, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles