With the start of a new school year, Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre is reminding citizens about traffic safety and that deputies will be enforcing a new law regarding cell phone use in school zones.
Lafourche Parish public schools begin classes on Monday, August 10, and school zones will be back in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on school days. In addition to reducing speed through the school zones, beginning this year, each school zone throughout Lafourche Parish has been designated as a “hands-free zone”. This means drivers are prohibited from using handheld devices in school zones during the effective times.
Previous legislation had already banned texting and the use of social media while driving, but R.S. 32:300.8 further prohibits drivers from using any handheld device in a school zone, even to engage in a phone call. Pursuant to the law, signs designating each school zone as a “hands-free zone” have been posted throughout the parish.
“This law helps protect our students, teachers, traffic guards, and any other pedestrian crossing through a school zone,” said Sheriff Webre. “While many have grown accustomed to talking on their phones while driving, the fact is anytime you don’t have both hands on the wheel giving your full attention to what’s in front of you and around you, you are distracted. Forcing drivers to put down the phone will help prevent a potential tragedy.”
The ban does not apply if the driver is reporting a traffic collision, road hazard, or an emergency. Drivers utilizing a Bluetooth headset or other hands-free device are also exempt. Outside of the exceptions, Sheriff Webre says deputies will be strictly enforcing this new law.
“The deputies of our Specialty Enforcement Section are very passionate about public safety, and they will be watching for violators,” said Sheriff Webre. “It’s very simple: when driving through a school zone, put the phone down and pay attention.”
Violators face a fine up to $175 for the first offense, and a fine of up to $500 for any subsequent offense. If involved in a crash at the time of the violation, the fine doubles.
Drivers are also reminded that with school starting, school buses will be back on the roadways. Commuters are encouraged to leave home a few minutes earlier than usual to allow for delays caused by buses stopping to pick up children for school. Remember that buses make frequent stops, so drivers should prepare to stop when a bus activates its yellow caution lights.
“As you’re approaching a school bus from the opposite direction, you should interpret their lights as you would a traffic light,” said Sheriff Webre. “When you see the yellow lights activated, you should NOT accelerate or try to speed past the bus. You should slow down and prepare to stop. Remember, there are severe penalties, including the possibility of jail time, if you illegally pass a stopped school bus.”
When stopping for a bus, drivers should stop at least 30 feet from the bus regardless of the direction of travel. Anyone driving in the opposite direction of an oncoming school bus on a four-lane highway divided by a structure or median, such as LA Highway 3235 in South Lafourche, does not need to stop. Drivers traveling behind or alongside a school bus on such a highway, however, are required to stop as normal.