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2012-05-17

"Dude, I get to ride in the front seat!" - Troopers update traffic laws at Citizens Academy

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Department of Public Safety Troopers Eric Morgan and Scott Shinar shared some background on Texas traffic laws to students at the Bandera County Sheriff's Office Citizens Academy on Wednesday, May 9. "When we have to transport someone, we put them in the front seat with us," said Morgan. "Some people feel like that's a real honor," added Shinar.

Morgan surprised the class when he stated that 60 percent of traffic fatalities occur on rural highways. "That's Bandera County highways, folks," he said.

Locally, excessive speed and driving under the influence are the big reasons for stops by DPS officers in this area.

"You might also want to know that most of our criminal apprehensions are because of traffic violations," added Morgan.

Trooper Shinar said the aim of the DPS is to reduce crashes and fatalities. "The hardest thing we do is to have to tell someone their loved one has died."

"Wear your seatbelt," urged Morgan. "I guarantee you it will save your life."

Since faulty equipment can often contribute to wrecks, the local troopers keep a sharp eye out for equipment failures, like broken lights, along with failure to use the equipment properly, like not using the turn signal. Troopers also pay keen attention to inspection stickers, but this writer will not tell which ones have "eagle eyes" that can spot an invalid inspection sticker on a moving vehicle from across the highway.

If it has been some years since the driver sat in the driver's ed class, it might be a good idea to get a copy of the Texas Drivers Handbook, available online at

www.txdps.state.tx.us.

Texas now has a point system based on traffic violation convictions. Once a conviction has been added to the driver record, points will be assigned and will remain on the record for three years. Two points are assigned for a moving violation conviction, three points for a moving violation conviction that results in a crash. When the driver accumulates six points, a surcharge will be assessed for license renewal. The surcharge is $100 for the first six points and $25 for each additional point.

Some offenses, such as DWI, driving with no insurance, driving while license invalid or driving with no license, have much higher surcharges.

"Getting a DWI is very expensive," said Morgan. "You've seen the signs? DWI - You Can't Afford It! That's the truth.

"Drivers should remember that even when there is no posted speed limit, there are prima facie speed limits," said Morgan. And despite a posted speed limit, a driver may be cited for unsafe speed if conditions warrant, for example during rain, road repairs, or curves.

The troopers also reminded the class that leaving your vehicle running while you run inside the convenience store, "just for a minute," is illegal. As is leaving your keys in the vehicle and not locking the doors. Leaving a child unattended in the vehicle is illegal.

Stopping in the middle of the block to turn left across the oncoming lane to park at Family Dollar or Lowe's Super S is perfectly legal. However, pulling onto the shoulder at the lights in anticipation of turning right, is not. "That shoulder is not a turn lane," said Morgan.

When stopped by a law enforcement officer, the driver handbook suggests that the driver move the vehicle safely to the right edge of the roadway or street as soon as possible and stop. Place the vehicle's gear selector in a parking position, set the emergency brake, turn the engine off, and activate the hazard warning lights.

The driver should remain in the vehicle, lower the driver's window, and wait for further instructions from the officer.

If the stop is at night, "I like for the driver to turn on the dome light and put both hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o'clock," said Shinar.

The DPS pair did a little soft shoe just prior to their presentation and we can verify, these troopers are troupers!