School zones bustle with activity throughout the day, but they are particularly busy during drop-off and pickup times. Car accident lawyers in Houston know that children are extremely vulnerable as they walk, ride bikes, take the bus or ride in cars to and from school.

2013 School Zone Injury Facts:

  • 625 crashes were reported in Texas school zones.
  • 2 people died in Texas school zone accidents.
  • 112 serious injuries resulted from car accidents in Texas school zones.
  • 1 in 6 drivers across the nation report driving distracted while in school zones.

In an effort to increase the safety of kids, parents and others while in school zones, the state of Texas has enacted several laws over the years that apply strictly in these areas.

School Zone Speed Limits

There are 8,317 public schools in Texas, educating almost $4.5 million kids every year. These schools are located in a wide range of settings, from 2-lane country roads to major highways.

While Texas speed limit laws give guidelines for different types of roads, local counties and municipalities have the right to change the default speed limits based on the needs and conditions of the area. These limits are typically determined by engineering and traffic studies.

For school zones, the speed can be reduced to a minimum of 15 miles per hour in some circumstances. Even for schools located on highways, the speed limit is typically no higher than 35 miles per hour when in a school zone.

If the regular speed limit during non-school hours is more than 55 miles per hour, a “buffer zone” is required to give drivers time to slow down to the school zone speed limit.

To enforce these rules, extra fines are imposed on drivers who speed in these areas. At the lowest, an extra $25 court fee will be added to the regular cost of your ticket. The profits from this extra fee go towards funding school guard crossing programs and other child safety programs.

In addition to this state-imposed fine, there may be additional fines by the city, county or municipality you receive the ticket in.

Cell Phones and School Zones

Across the United States and around the world, cell phones are one of the leading distractions that cause drivers to have accidents. Car accident lawyers in Houston note that these distractions can be particularly tragic when your attention is pulled away from the road in a school zone.

In 2009, a law took effect prohibiting cell phone use in active school zones. The law did not prohibit the use of hands-free devices, emergency calls, or cell phone use while the vehicle is stopped. The law carried a fine of up to $200.

In September of 2013, the Texas Legislature expanded the rules to also prohibit cell phone use not just on the road in designated school zones, but also while operating a vehicle on the property of a public elementary, middle, junior high or high school. This includes driving through school parking lots and drop-off lanes.

The exceptions for cell phone use while the vehicle is stopped, for emergency calls, and using a hands-free device remain in effect.

Stopping for School Buses

Every school day, more than 40,000 school buses are on the roads bringing approximately 1.5 million students to and from school. Whether in school zones or your neighborhood, state law mandates that drivers come to a complete stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped to pick up or drop off students.

School buses operate visual signals to let other drivers know when this is occurring — either flashing red lights or a stop sign that extends from the side of the bus. When drivers see one of these signals, they must stop until either the bus driver resumes motion, deactivates the visual signals, or gives the passenger vehicle the signal to proceed.

The fine for violating this law was recently increased. Previously, the range was $200-$1,000; that was increased to $500-$1,250.

If you don’t see a cop and think you can get away with slipping by a stopped school bus, don’t be so quick to hit the gas pedal. Some areas are implementing school bus cameras that capture images of those who violate this law, and mail the violators notice of the civil fine.

At Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P., Accident & Injury Lawyers, our car accident lawyers in Houston strongly encourage all drivers to follow Texas school zone traffic laws not just to save yourself the civil penalties but also to protect our state’s children from serious injuries.