The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Driving the kiddos to school everyday is about to get more complicated in Texas.
That's because a bevy of new state laws that take effect Tuesday target on-the-road safety, particularly for children.
Starting this week, more children will be required to ride in a booster seat. Multitasking parents who handle calls on their way to school will need to use a handsfree device to legally talk on the phone in a school zone. And for those who carpool, everyone in the vehicle will soon be required to wear a seat belt, no matter their age.
They're among hundreds of new state laws that lawmakers adopted during this year's legislative session that take effect Tuesday, the first day of the state's 2010 fiscal year.
New safety requirements "will make people safer," said Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. "I would rather listen to my child complain about sitting in a booster seat than face the consequences if they weren't."
The new booster seat law changes the requirement for children to be secured in a booster seat to those under eight years old or shorter than 4-feet-9 inches. Current law requires booster seats for children under five and shorter than 3 feet tall. Supporters of the bill argued that seat belts do not fit children properly and can injure or kill them in an accident.
Initially, parents will just get a warning for not complying with the law. But starting next June, people who don't follow the law will face a $25 fine. Subsequent violations could result in fines up to $250.
Despite legislative attempts to require handsfree devices for any cell phone use while driving, the law that takes effect Tuesday will only apply to driving in school zones. Local authorities can only enforce the new restriction if signs announcing the ban are posted at the beginning of each school zone.
Teenagers trying to get their first driver's license are going to have a tougher time, too.
Starting Tuesday, the behind-the-wheel driving instruction requirement increases from 14 hours to 34. And they'll once again have to take a driving skills test in addition to the written test.
Not all the new laws are about driving safety.
Smokeless tobacco users will get hit with a tax hike on Tuesday after lawmakers changed the taxing formula to be based on weight. A proper method for folding the state flag becomes effective, too.
While some districts have delayed implementation, high school students are being given more freedom to pursue the elective courses of their choice on the recommended graduation plan.
Some of the laws that kick in this week loosen restrictions on gun-toting Texans.
Concealed handgun licensees, for instance, will no longer face a suspension of the license for refusing to display it to peace officers on demand. And carrying a concealed handgun into a bar will still be a Class A misdemeanor, but it's defensible if the business does not clearly state that more 51 percent or more of its income is from thesale of alcoholic beverages. Defaulting on a student loan also will no longer automatically disqualify an applicant for a concealed handgun license.