With public schools in Lafayette Parish opening for the first day, state police is reminding drivers of a new state law that will affect them in school zones, as well as general safety tips when sharing the roadway with school buses and other traffic.

Louisiana State Police Troop I spokesperson Master Trooper Brooks David said drivers will no longer be allowed to use a handheld cell phone while driving through a school zone. That law, which was passed by legislators during the most recent legislative session, only allows the use of completely hands-free devices in these areas, David said.

State police will also be stepping up enforcement of laws governing school buses and speed limits in a school zone. Because school buses are required to drive at a speed lower than most posted speed limits--35 miles per hour in most cases and 55 miles per hour on highways--David recommended driving a safe distance away from a bus.

"As soon as those yellow flashers on the bus come on, you don't want to see if you can beat a stop sign from coming out," David said. Additional troopers will be posted in school zones, and "there will be no breaks given. If you pass a school bus with that stop sign out, you will receive a citation," David added.

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Troopers in Troop I are required to visit a school several times a month, David said. They are encouraged to talk with administrators, teachers, and students during these visits, though they are also told to "run radar."

"We want the public to know that we're in the schools, just wanting them to feel safe, kind of like a deterrent," David said. "We want people to see and know that we're there."

This interaction with the education community allows troopers to become familiar with schools' layouts and schools' policies for emergency situations, David said, but it also allows them to provide for teachers and students a face of police.

"We want the children to know that they can come to us in a time of need," David said. "If we go read these kids a book...we want to build these kids' trust, and we want them to know that we're here for them"