March 12, 2008
Will West U follow Highland Park?

Last year the Dallas-area city of Highland Park banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving through school zones. Now the city of West University Place is considering the same thing.

Council will consider a draft ordinance at its next regular meeting.

The West U. Police Department studied the school zone in the 3700 block of University Boulevard in front of West U. Elementary School Feb. 4-22 to determine the frequency of cell usage and its relation with traffic violations.

Police found an average of 13.5 drivers were on their phones in the active school zone each day and 297 drivers were seen from a single vantage point using their cell phones during the study.

During morning dropoff, there were 48 traffic violations, six of which were attributed to cell phone use. Most of the violations had to do with drivers entering intersections when children and crossing guards were present.

Police also consulted studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New England Journal of Medicine and AAA Foundation for Traffic and Safety.

"All of the surveys we consulted with had the same result -- cell phone usage does restrict drivers of motor vehicles," [West U. Police Lt. Thad M.] Olive said.

I have to say, six violations of the type described above, out of 48 cellphone users doesn't sound like that big a problem to me. I have no quarrel with the ordinance, I'm just saying that based on these statistics, I don't think it'll have that much effect.

Mayor Bob Kelly said he believes council should consider a possible ordinance.

"The cell phone usage has just gotten phenomenal in the last few years," he said. "The usage of cell phones is so significant you can't just ignore it."

Kelly said he spoke to the mayor of Highland Park in the Dallas area, which adopted a similar ordinance carrying a $75 fine for citations.

The idea for West U. would be similar in that the ordinance would not be to raise money, but awareness.

"He said the (Highland Park) ordinance has worked beautifully," Kelly said. "They had 10 citations in the first week, 10 in the next month after that and now there are very few citations."

That's about what I'd expect. This is a pretty limited population that will be affected by the law. I'd be surprised if they didn't adapt quickly.

There was some debate on whether an ordinance also should prohibit use of hands-free devices in the school zones.

"The handless ones are still very distracting," Councilman Michael Talianchich said. "I'm in favor of banning all cell phone usage."

Councilman Chuck Guffey said he agreed with banning hands-free cell phones because he believes most people will comply with the law even if it is hard to enforce.

Olive said that sort of restriction would be difficult to enforce because police cannot necessarily tell whether a person is using a headset or merely singing along with the radio.

"We'll get with the city prosecutor and look at it as far as viability in being able to enforce it," Olive said.

I'd recommend allowing the exception, even though it's about the same from a safety perspective. I think it would be a bit too invasive to include hands-free devices in the ordinance. Again, not that big a deal either way. Link via Jennifer Friedberg.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 12, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I dunno... I find it a little impressive that 1/8 of the traffic violations were associated with cell phones.

Posted by: tubin on March 12, 2008 6:56 AM

Hmm. I want to play with the numbers, but I'm not sure there are enough numbers there to do it.

13.5/day and 297 total on school days means a study lasting 22 school days.

We're not told how many total vehicles were observed, so we don't know if 6 in 297 is above average or not. If there were 2376 vehicles, then there's no difference in the rate of violations between callers and non-callers.

We don't know if the 6 violators were distinct individuals, or the same dumb parent making the same illegal turn on multiple days.

We don't know if the Highland Park enforcement lowered the overall rate, or if it did what that means. Drivers might still be careless if they aren't on the phone. Or seeing ten traffic stops in the school zone might have made everyone more careful for a while.

I'm not disputing that the case is wrong, just that the data presented doesn't really prove it.

Posted by: Michael on March 12, 2008 7:38 AM

The City of Dallas has enacted a handheld cell phone in school zone ban.

Posted by: Trafficnerd on March 12, 2008 3:11 PM