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Teaching School Zone Safety

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: In California, the speed limit in a school zone is 25 mph when children are present. But I’ve observed many drivers who completely ignore the limits. When I follow the law and slow down as I approach schools, I’m tailgated and passed by reckless and thoughtless drivers. It’s very dangerous. Are drivers allowed to determine on their own whether to slow down near schools?

Barb Ketcham

Malibu

Answer: Under the law, drivers must obey the 25-mph speed limit in a school zone if there are children--18 years or younger--nearby. The law applies whenever schoolchildren are arriving or departing. If they are standing in front of the school, waiting on corners or walking along sidewalks, drivers must reduce speeds to 25 mph, law enforcement officers said.

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Drivers must comply with the law whether they’re driving through a high school or an elementary school zone.

It’s also important for drivers to understand that under the law(California Vehicle Code, section 467), a pedestrian is anyone who is walking or using a “human-powered device” such as a skateboard, wheelchair or roller skates.

Bicyclists are not considered pedestrians, but drivers still must use caution, especially when children are riding in bike lanes.

In a recent survey conducted by the California Institute of Transportation Safety at San Diego State University, school crossing guards from Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Francisco counties reported that only 25% of motorists obeyed the 25-mph speed limit around schools when children were present.

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Parents often are the offenders, said Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis P. Zine, a former sergeant in the LAPD traffic division and now a reserve officer. Anyone who drives kids to school or drives past a school as students are arriving or departing knows what chaos occurs.

Lines of vehicles clog surrounding streets. Harried parents double-park and let their children dash out into the street between cars. Some parents stop in the middle of the street to pick up children, or speed dangerously through intersections and around corners to get their children to school before the bell rings.

Teen drivers who roar out of school parking lots and “show off their fast cars” also pose a danger, Zine said.

“It’s insanity,” said Long Beach Police Sgt. Rich Meyer, adding that his department and other law enforcement agencies are taking an aggressive approach to protecting pedestrians and enforcing the law.

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Besides cracking down on speeders, police also are focusing on crosswalk safety.

In Long Beach, plainclothes officers attempting to cross streets at intersections and crosswalks have resulted in as many as 150 citations in a 10-hour period, Meyer said. Violators speed past or swerve around the officers. Some “yell and make obscene gestures,” Meyer said. “It boils down to the fact that everybody is in a hurry.”

It’s particularly disturbing when drivers won’t allow children safe passage at a crosswalk.

Under California law, drivers must yield the right of way to pedestrians, whether they are using a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

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The law, Vehicle Code section 21950, also states that pedestrians bear some responsibility for their safety.

They cannot suddenly leave the curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is close and poses immediate danger.

Pedestrians also are prohibited from unnecessarily stopping or delaying traffic in a crosswalk. If pedestrians are attempting to cross streets controlled by a traffic signal or police officer, they must use only marked crosswalks.

People often are unaware of crosswalk laws, officers said.

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Traffic safety around campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been such a concern over the years that school security officers have been given the authority to cite lawbreakers.

The next step should be motorcycle patrols at schools to catch violators, Zine said. He is working with the LAUSD to secure a state grant to pay for such a plan.

From January to June 2002, two children died and 134 other youngsters, ages 18 and younger, were injured in pedestrian and bicycle-related traffic accidents in Los Angeles during school arrival and dismissal times, according to LAPD data.

“More schoolchildren get hurt by cars than get shot or stabbed around schools” in Los Angeles, said Mike Bowman, assistant to the chief of the LAUSD police.

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Jeanne Wright responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: jeanrite@aol.com.


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