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School-zone law changes

In response to frustrated drivers, the Legislature changes the rules on 20 mph speed limits in school zones
by: Vern Uyetake, A vehicle descends on Skyline Drive near West Linn High School last week, slowing to 20 mph, as the sign orders. But a revised regulation that went into effect last Saturday, among other details, requires slowing to 20 mph only on school days from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

No one is saying that Oregon's experiment with 24-hour/seven-day school zones is a failure, but last weekend a revision of the state's 20-mph speed limit in school zones went into effect.

The change seemed prudent to legislators due to the many motorists who found the signs requiring them to slow down to 20 mph even in the middle of the night to be a nuisance. Police departments found the law, which imposed double fines for speeding in school zones, difficult to administer.

The revision, approved by the 2005 Legislature, abolished the 24-hour rule and imposed a basic 10-hour rule: from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day that school is in session.

The two exceptions to that basic rule include instances where schools are near heavily-traveled roads and flashing yellow lights are installed with the speed-limit sign. In that case, the 20 mph speed limit applies only when the lights are flashing. But drivers beware: Fines are doubled when the lights are flashing.

The other exception is at locations that are not near schools and a crosswalk exists that is used by children on their way to or from school. In that instance, the 20 mph speed limit applies whenever children or a traffic patrol assistant are present.

Even though the 20 mph speed limit doesn't apply to most areas during the summer, drivers should be more attentive in those areas frequented by children, according to West Linn Police Sgt. Neil Hennelly.

Driving just 5 mph over the 20 mph speed limit increases the risk of hitting a child and increases the severity of the injury when a child is struck by a vehicle, according to Sue Riehl, youth program manager for the Oregon Department of Transportation's Safety Division.

'Slowing down anytime children are near the street or at a crosswalk can help prevent a tragic situation for a driver and a child. That's the most important issue,' Riehl said. 'And slowing down is also the best way to avoid an expensive ticket.'

During the summer, signs will be replaced in zones affected by the law change in time for the new school year, beginning next fall.

In West Linn, no school zone is controlled by a flashing yellow light, Hennelly says, so school zone speeds of 20 mph are in effect from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. on school days.

Since some schools are playing host to various types of summer school, recreational activities or summer camps, children could be using school playgrounds and other school areas at a time of year when it's not expected.

'When in doubt, follow the signs,' Hennelly said. 'It's always a good idea to slow down where children are likely to be, anyway.'

For more information, contact the West Linn Police Department by calling 503-655-6214 during normal open hours, or visit the Web site at www.oregon.gov/odot.