The Stephenville Police Department wants your attention — to be on the roadway.
With SISD’s new school year beginning next week and Tarleton State University’s annual influx of new freshman students in progress, the traffic may be hectic, at least until things settle into a routine.
“Tarleton starts having their move-in days this coming Sunday and Monday,” Police Chief Jason King said. “SISD starts back next Wednesday (Aug. 22) morning, and then the following Monday morning I believe Tarleton’s in full session. So basically by Monday the 27th, the roadways in the mornings and afternoons are going to be full; we’re all going to be sharing the roadway together — quite a few of us.”
For Chief King and his patrol officers, the bottom line is making sure that a relatively safe community stays that way.
Inattention and distracted driving are often factors when accidents happen on the roadways.
“We want folks to pay attention,” King said. “We do see a lot of accidents with driver inattention as part of the causation factor. We really want people to concentrate on driving and especially around our school zone areas and where our children are at and around the university area as well.
“In an active school zone, you cannot have a phone in your hand, doing something with it. So that’s no texting, no talking — it is a hands-free law. That is limited to the active school zone. It’s just in effect during those active school zone times.”
SPD Patrol Lieutenant Sha King noted that the hands-free cell phone law also is in effect in the school parking lots.
Chief King added, “The new state law that was enacted out of the last legislative session, the statewide no texting law, is just that (as of Sept. 1).”
Lt. King emphasized that drivers should be aware that certain school zones will have one-way traffic during specific times of the day.
“It’s important to learn about the traffic pattern,” the lieutenant said. “The traffic patterns around certain schools are one-way only during drop-off and pickup times.”
As examples he noted, “North Cleveland is one-way from Frey to Ash during dropoff and pickup. McNeill Street is one-way around Central to Alexander Road from Paddock.”
Chief King said, “specific to Central Elementary, Chamberlin Elementary, Hook Elementary, whether you’re a parent that’s dropping off or picking up at those three campuses or you’re just driving through the area, please be aware of the signage. Those specific three campuses have some different temporary one-way streets that go into effect during the drop-off and pickup times. So we want people to pay attention to the signage and know when those are.”
Chief King also noted that drivers will likely notice an increased presence of patrol officers “in and around those campuses specifically but all the other campuses because we know it’s new for everybody on those first few days of school. That is much more from a facilitation standpoint than anything else. We’re going to be there to help people, get them pointed in the right direction and get them used to what that pattern is around the school that they’re going to.”
There were 290 reported traffic accidents of significance inside the Stephenville city limits in 2017. Nearby Granbury had 337, wile Brownwood had 345 and Weatherford had 857 (including police patrol duties on Interstate 20 inside the city). Mineral Wells had slightly fewer than Stephenville last year with 282.
“We don’t have an extreme volume of accidents,” King said. “In fact, if I remember right last year we had seen a large decrease in the number of accidents that we did accident reports on.”
When asked why, Chief King responded, “What we hope it is, is that people were driving better, more courteous of each other, paying attention, and we certainly want that trend to continue. That doesn’t mean we don’t have issues that need to be addressed.”
Statistics provided by the SPD show that between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year, two spots in town were in a tie for having the most reported traffic accidents, with five each. They are both on West Washington — one in the 2700 block near Wolfe Nursery Road and the other in the 2900 block near the Northwest Loop.
Areas on Frey Street will also have traffic issues that drivers may want to adjust their commute times to avoid, “because of college traffic as well as the dropoff and pickup times and the normal commuters during the school day, especially the first couple of weeks,” Lt. King said. “Frey Street gets really congested in the morning, and Washington Street early-morning hours in front of Central gets pretty congested. And Frey Street gets pretty congested again during pickup time.”
The SPD sent letters to parents of students, giving them specific details they need to know about the traffic zones.
Those letters also contain the following caution:
“Out of concern for the safety of our young students, the Stephenville Police Department will adopt a zero tolerance approach for traffic and parking violations and, violators may receive a citation for violations that may endanger the safety of others.”
Chief King dropped an important reminder that is sometimes overlooked or ignored, which could result in a traffic ticket that carries a particularly hefty fine.
“Be safe around school buses,” he said. “Make sure when the red lights are on, remember that’s for all traffic to stop — and do not pass.”
The chief added one more important reminder.
“Safety is all our responsibility — certainly not just police officers,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of everybody that’s on the road. And so we just want people to be cognizant of that and keep that in mind as they’re driving around town, driving around our schools and certainly driving around our children.
"We do have a very low fatality rate, whether that’s vehicle or pedestrian. Our goal is certainly to not have any.”