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New traffic laws take effect Sunday

By Jessica Priest
Aug. 31, 2013 at 3:31 a.m.


Other new laws:

• HB 1174 increases the minimum fines for the misdemeanor offense of passing a stopped school bus loading or unloading children. The minimum fine increases from $200 to $500, and the maximum fine for such an offense increases from $1,000 to $1,250.

The bill also enhances the penalty for a second or subsequent conviction of that offense committed within five years to a misdemeanor punishable by a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum fine of $2,000.

• SB 275 increases the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in the death of a person and failing to render aid from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony carries a punishment of two to 20 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000, whereas a third-degree felony carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.

• HB 1284 increases the penalty for the offense of initiating, communicating or circulating a false report of an emergency (such as a bomb threat) involving an institution of higher education from a Class A misdemeanor to a state jail felony. Effective immediately.

SOURCE: THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

The legislature paid special attention to school zones this year as new traffic laws go into effect Sunday.

The Department of Public Safety asserted House Bill 347 was one of many passed to keep a mobile Lone Star state safe.

HB 347 expands the ban of cellphone use in active school zones to include the elementary, middle, junior or high schools' parking lot, Trooper Gerald Bryant said.

It would not apply if your vehicle is stopped or if the driver is using a hands-free device or calling 911, he said.

Both Victoria West and East high schools, which are situated along highways, do not have school zones, just reduced speed limits, he said.

"But if you turn off Mockingbird (near East High School), they would have to get off the cellphone," he said.

Drivers also won't get much of a warning, as the signs that post the fines one could face will come down.

Bryant suspected that was because cellphone prohibition in school zones passed two years ago.

"We really need to be looking out for the protection of our children," he said.

Violators face a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $200 plus court costs.

The legislature also approved motorists using their smartphones to show proof of insurance.

With Senate Bill 181, drivers can display their proof of insurance via a cellphone. Bryant suggested drivers take a picture of their physical insurance card. That way, troopers can verify the information, such as what vehicle or driver it covers and its expiration date.

Bryant also noted Senate Bill 510, which requires drivers to move over or slow down when approaching a Texas Department of Transportation vehicle with its lights activated.

Violating that law is punishable by a fine of up to $200, punishable by a fine of $500 if property damage occurs or considered a Class B misdemeanor if the violation results in bodily damage.

"We really urge that if you have any vehicle stopped on the side of the road that you definitely slow down or attempt to slow down or change lanes for them," Bryant said. "Even though the law does not require it, you never know what could happen."

Johnny Sciacca, the owner and director of Victoria Educational Associations, a driving school that opened in 1991, was preparing Friday to teach 50 teenagers.

The legislature's decision to increase the number of hours his students must drive with a beginner's permit from 34 to 44 was a good one, he said.

But Sciacca is still waiting to see how the state will implement a mandate that schools such as his give the official driving test.

He thinks HB 347 is the latest attempt to get as close as possible to no texting while driving, which most lawmakers failed to get passed.

"I've been doing some research, and some manufacturers have technology where the car would not let the cellphones receive and send text messages if the car is moving more than 10 mph," Sciacca said. "That would be one of the most effective ways to control it."

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