Students Find Some El Paso Drivers Use Cell Phones in School Zones

A recent statistical study by a group of undergraduate students found that eight percent of El Paso drivers were using their cell phones in active school zones.

The team, made up of Marisol Blanco, Loretta Rivera, Ana Porras, Jessica Camacho and Mishka Radovich, came to the results this past semester as part of a final project in a statistics course at The University of Texas at El Paso.

The course was led by Amy Wagler, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematical sciences, who asked students to formulate an original research question that they were interested in learning more about.

“I’m a mother, so when I saw this I was alarmed. My daughter walks home from school sometimes, and these results are probably an undercount,” said Wagler, who said she was very impressed with the student project.

After randomly selecting four schools in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) – Putnam, Rivera and Clardy Elementary Schools, and Ross Middle School – the students went out and collected data for one day during the hours of release at the schools.

The team originally hypothesized that they would find a gender association in cell phone usage in school zones, but there was none.

“I thought that men would be more likely to be on their phones texting and talking, and that females would have that mother instinct and know better,” said Blanco, who is majoring in cellular and molecular biochemistry. “But it turns out that their usage was equal.”

Rivera, who is majoring in microbiology, said, "I was definitely shocked that people were using their phones at all. I would think that the signs posted before you enter the school zones would do the job, but even at that, people still use their cell phones.” She added that she even noticed some drivers speeding.

In total, the team observed 624 drivers. Fifty-four were using their cell phones.

In April 2010, a city ordinance banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving anywhere in El Paso. The fine is $114. A Texas law prohibits cell phone use in school zones and violators are subject to a $200 fine.

Hands-free devices are permitted, and drivers can still use their phones to report a crime, traffic accident, or medical emergency.