By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
It’s 3:34 p.m. outside Bill Burden Elementary School. Students have just started trickling out, and the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department has already cited three drivers for speeding in a school zone.
Officers were stationed at the school last Wednesday and Thursday as part of a crackdown on unsafe driving in school zones across the county. The department also visited Great Oaks Elementary School in the same period.
Deputy Travis Radig stood a few yards behind a large sign on Stonewall Parkway and measured every vehicle that passed by through speed-detecting LIDAR binoculars.
A bus passes, then another, but then — “27 on the Blue Ford truck,” he radios in. Down the way, patrol cars positioned in the gas station parking lot at the corner motion for the truck to stop.
The scene played over again and again through the course of the two days, during both morning and afternoon rushes.
Speeding, rolling stops, using a cell phone, and passing busses were just some of the violations officers were looking for — and found. Department representative Patricia Gutierrez reported that the department had contact with a total of 50 vehicles at Bill Burden and 39 were given citations.
More were given in the morning than in the afternoon, and Thursday morning alone saw 20 citations — 16 of which were for speeding.
Radig said that while he sometimes stood in the shade of a nearby bush, he also would stand in the open, completely unobscured. He said it did not appear to make a difference in the amount of speeders caught.
“People just aren’t paying attention,” he said.
He said that he would often recognize cars he had pulled over earlier. Without exception, they would cruise under the speed limit and follow regulations.
His observation aligns with the intent of the department’s action.
“We want people to understand that when those lights are flashing, it’s an active school zone,” said Sgt. Gary Haston. “And obviously, we have a problem with speeders in school zones.”
The department stages similar operations on a monthly basis. School campuses are rotated on a monthly basis.
Gutierrez said that Bill Burden was selected this month in response to a high volume of complaints in the area.
Although officers enforced a “zero tolerance” policy for speeding, Commander James David said that most violators were caught driving 5-10 miles per hour over the posted limit.
Speeding in a school zone, by any amount, carries a minimum fine of $300.
Sheriff Robert Chody said in a recent CBS Austin report that, “We’re getting in that time of year where parents are getting comfortable, the public is getting comfortable because school is almost out. They’re forgetting that our children are still walking the streets and going to school.”
Chody himself worked an April 21 operation held at Great Oaks Elementary School, which he livestreamed on social media.
Similar operations could be staged at Bill Burden in the future. Gutierrez said another operation at the school is “not a daily matter, but it’s on our radar.”