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School zones play enforcement roulette

April 6, 2012

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist April 6, 2012

Variations in times schools are in session present a problem for police officers when issuing tickets.

It is common knowledge that school zones in British Columbia are at best misunderstood and at worst ridiculously difficult to enforce.

A few weeks ago, a 100-year-old driver was cited for going too fast through the posted school zone in Saanich. The constable let the century-old driver off with a warning. The advanced age of the driver was the lead story reported in the media. As it happened, the constable was in quite a quandary as to what he should do with the elderly driver. There was a teachers’ strike at the time of the supposed offence. Was there a duly constituted school zone speed of 30 kilometres an hour on such a day and in such a circumstance? The answer is yes. School zones are legally enforced on statutory school days. They are even in effect during teacher professional development days, when no students attend school.

The constable used good judgment, in my opinion. The senior had an impeccable driving record. In view of the fact of the teachers’ strike, no ticket was issued.

Constables everywhere are in a quandary when it comes to school-zone enforcement.

What do you think of their impossible judgment calls in the following circumstances?

For two weeks, many school districts were on spring break. Do you know which ones? For one week, all school districts in our province were on spring break. For the same cumulative period, many private schools were not on spring break. In fact, most private schools will be on a duly constituted spring break for several weeks while the public schools will be in session. The school zones are only enforceable on statutory school days as defined by the public school act. Unless you have kids of school age or work in a school, I would be willing to bet that you have no idea on which statutory spring break holiday days a school zone must be observed or not observed.

Private-school students are not protected by school zones when the public statutory school holiday occurs, despite the private schools being in full session. The police are unable to issue speeding tickets in school zones where private school students are in session while public schools are on a statutory spring break holiday. Do school districts that opt for a two week spring break expect the police to issue tickets to drivers when it is a statutory school day with no students or teachers present? Of course not, but it would be legal for police to do so. Thankfully, constables have better judgment than to issue such violation citations.

Some school-zone signs have a 30 km/h sign attached. Where no such school-zone speed is displayed, the normal posted speed applies. School zones begin at the posted sign and end when a driver reaches the corresponding sign facing the other way on the other side of the road, meant to warn oncoming drivers of the very same school speed zone. (We are the only jurisdiction in the world that expects a driver to know what to do by reading the blank back side of such a traffic sign.) School zones are generally in effect from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on statutory school days.

It is a good idea to slow for all school zones. Students deserve our undivided attention.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. and a certified British Columbia teacher.

stevedwallace@shaw.ca

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