New driving laws affect students

Leah Mulaly

     Several new traffic and public safety laws went into effect September 1, 2009, many of which affect Cedar Park students.

   Previous laws, regarding the use of cell phones while driving, forbade minors from any cell phone use during the first six months of driving.  The new law extends upon this one, disallowing cell phone use (talking or texting) for minors until age eighteen.

   “I think it should be texting only that’s banned, because it requires two hands and your eyes,” Arizona Dabrusin, sophomore, said.

   In addition, the other restrictions that originally only applied to minors during the first six months of licensure, have been extended to one full year. Such restrictions include limited night driving and transporting a limited number of passengers.

   “I hate it because six months is long enough,” Jessi Gutierrez, freshman, said. “We already have to wait six months after we get our permit to get our license.”

   House bill 2730 requires minors that apply for licensure after September 1 to take and pass a driving skills exam before receipt of their license, as opposed to the old system of receiving a license without being tested.

   “I think it’s good to have someone watch how you drive before you’re licensed because some people get by knowing the facts but they can’t actually put those facts into action,” Savannah Lee, freshman, said.

   The same law also requires that a provisional (minor’s) driver’s license or instruction permit expire on their eighteenth birthday, but removes the requirement that a provisional driver’s license or permit be renewed annually. It also raises the fee for those licenses to fifteen dollars instead of five dollars.

   In addition, minors are required to have 34 hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction instead of 14, but that law will not go into effect until May 1, 2010. 

   All drivers are now prohibited from using cell phones in school zones, unless they are employing a hands-free device or the vehicle is stopped. Fines may be up to 200 dollars, but cities or counties that want to enforce the law must post a sign at the beginning of each school zone to inform drivers of the law and warn them of the fine. Many cities, such as Houston, will not be able to enforce this law due to insufficient funds for the signs. LISD schools are in several cities and two counties, so policies will vary from school to school.        

   “It’ll probably be safer but it stinks because you don’t have a means of communication while you’re driving,” Brooke Wilkinson, freshman, said.

   Other laws now in affect include HB 558, which allows minors to be charged with public intoxication, and another law requiring everyone to wear seatbelts, regardless of age or location in the vehicle.

   Many students are upset about the restrictions, but the laws were put in place for public safety, and will hopefully benefit the Cedar Park community.