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Now illegal to use cell phone in crosswalk near schools
cell walk

You might want to think twice before stepping off the curb while browsing your cell phone within 100 yards of any school in the City of Lathrop.

Lathrop Police Services may be watching.

On Monday the Lathrop City Council approved an addition to the municipal code that made it an infraction to use a cell phone while walking across a crosswalk within 100 feet of a school – following in the footsteps of the City of Monrovia in Southern California as a way to promote pedestrian safety.

The council voted 4-0, with Councilman Paul Akinjo abstaining, to institute the change.

But, at least for the time being, violating the municipal code will not result in a fine if caught.

Because the effort was seen as an educational one and an attempt to promote the safe habits of students, the council decided against attaching the fine schedule that was originally included and opted instead to move forward with spending $30,000 to install signage at all of the crosswalks that are within the designated zone to warn pedestrians of the new law.

The council does reserve the right to go back and add a fee schedule if they feel it is necessary at some point in the future.

Lathrop Police Chief Ryan Biedermann, who said that his officers have been focusing a lot of their traffic patrol operations around schools in recent weeks at pick up and drop off times, believes that the move will only help promote the overall safety of students and anybody using crosswalks during the busiest times of the day.

“I think it would be an additional deterrent even though it isn’t in crosswalks that we have accidents in the city it’s mostly in front of the school in vehicles,” Biedermann said. “Any added deterrent that helps them attention is a good thing.”

While the council was at one time during the meeting considering just adding the signs and asking Biedermann and his deputies to warn rule-breakers that what they were doing was unsafe, the chief pointed out that without a municipal code on the books Lathrop police officers had no authority to stop somebody who may be doing what the council was trying to prevent.

Biedermann stressed that his words were not an attempt to get the council to adopt a fee schedule and reiterated that the department typically only issues citations to minors as a last result – not to generate revenue, but to reinforce the safety ideas the law was intended to promote.

“We don’t really like citing minors, but it’s a preventative measure,” Biedermann said. “We’ve had a number of accidents involving bicyclists in front of the school, and we use citations as a last resort. We do announcements, offer trainings, and provide the helmets to the kids so that they can operate their bicycle safely.

“This is all about keeping the public safe. This is kind of a new thing, the cell phones in the crosswalk, but it’s an attempt to keep the city and the kids safer.”

The concept was introduced by Councilmember Jennifer Torres-O’Callaghan after she saw a number of students walk straight out into traffic without even looking while wearing earbuds and staring at a cell phone.

Lathrop becomes the first city in San Joaquin County to take a formal stance against the practice,

“My main concern is I have seen so many kids, not just at the high school, not paying attention,” Torres-O’Callaghan said. “They have their ear buds in, and they can’t hear the cars on the street, and they don’t stop at the stop signs and have no idea what’s going on.

“Whether we go with the signage or enforce it with the code, my main goal was to make it very similar to the bike helmet law in preventing injury and to serve as a reminder on how to be safe.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.