It’s that (school) time of year again
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist September 9, 2011
Kids are excited to return to school and see all their friends again. They are distracted and not yet accustomed to a regular routine. Drivers have to be extra careful at this time of year.
Sadly, many drivers have no idea of the actual meaning and enforcement of the posted school zone signs.
The rules that govern school speed zones are at best poorly contrived and at worst misunderstood.
School speed zones only apply on statutory school days. These are in-session days as defined by the public school act. They apply for 194 days a year.
School speed zones of 30 km/h only apply when a speed sign, black and white in colour, is affixed beneath the schoolhouse-shaped pentagon sign. If there is no speed posted on the pentagon sign, no special speed zone applies. If the speed tab is posted in yellow, it is a suggested speed only.
School zone signs that have no speed attached are a warning of the school in the neighbourhood and the regularly posted speed applies. Where speed zones exist, the time of enforcement is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days only. Individual municipalities and regional districts have the authority to alter the time and speed posted within their jurisdictions.
Some rural schools begin their day at 8 a.m., and subsequently the signs posted have the speed zone enforced from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The school zone law gets very confusing when certain school districts are in session in August and take holidays in May.
Municipalities seldom remove the school zone speed signs during the summer months, let alone Christmas and Easter holidays. They very seldom change the hours of protection for students to match the variable hours of operation at many schools. Confusion abounds throughout the year when it comes to the understanding of the real intent and meaning of a simple school zone sign.
The school speed zone begins at the sign facing the approaching driver and ends when the driver passes the sign facing the opposite direction, warning oncoming traffic of the same school speed zone.
Drivers are supposed to know what to do by reading a sign that is facing the opposite way. School zones often continue even after a driver makes a turn onto another street, and may extend for a block or more past a school property. All Canadian provinces would do well to adopt the California system of posting the hours of enforcement, as well as the beginning and end of school speed zones with signs that actually face the approaching drivers.
Some cities already do this, and should also be recognized for their “best practices” leadership.
Drivers should lower their speed regardless of whether a special speed zone is in effect. Crossing guards help make crossing the street much safer for school children. It is a good idea for drivers to put their four-way flashers on when approaching and while in a school zone. This action will not only give the crossing guards some comfort that they have been seen, but also warn following traffic of the hazards ahead.
Drivers should never pass in a school zone. It is a recipe for disaster. Most schools have a very well designed pickup and drop off area around the school property. They also have staff on duty to police and manage the high traffic areas.
Primary and elementary schools deserve extra attention, since the students are younger and are not as well versed in obvious vehicular traffic.
It is back-to-school time across the country. Act accordingly.
Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.
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