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When it comes to safety, its best to be very clear

Drivers have two choices: obey the old signs or just slow down
by: Mike Lucas,

It's probably best that Oregon's 24-hour school zone speed limit law has been shelved.

But safety around schools, parks and other places where youngsters gather and play should remain a priority.

State legislators passed the legislation in 2003, pointing out that schools are not just 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. activity centers. Legislators were right then, and they are still right. Schools are gathering places for community residents of all ages. In many communities, schools are either located alongside a park or serve as a playground for communities with too few parks. Getting tough on speeders, legislators said, should mean that violators of the school zone speed law should pay twice a typical fine.

But like many things, the devil was in the details - and in this case, the understanding of the law.

The problem with the school zone speed limit law, which required motorists to slow down to 20 mph even in the middle of the night, was that it was a nuisance - for motorists and for law enforcement. In some communities, such as Tualatin, there have been no 24-hour school zone reduced speed limits. In Tigard, such a requirement is in force outside middle schools but not in other areas along Bull Mountain Road and the new Alberta Rider Elementary School.

Confusion doesn't add to the safety of a community or streets surrounding schools. It only builds frustration and impatience among motorists and for police officers whose job it is to be the first line of contact with the public in observing and citing offenders and explaining laws to citizens.

Taking heed, the 2005 Legislature amended the school zone speed law with new rules that took affect on July 1. Motorists are now required to slow to 20 mph between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on school days, if a flashing school zone light is activated or approaching any crosswalk in the proximity of a school.

Double fines will still be enforced in zones where flashing lights are in operation, but not in zones where the 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. speed limit is enforced by signage only.

Motorists will see new signs going up over the next two months - in time for the start of school.

In the meantime, drivers have two good choices: Follow the old, confusing signs until the new signs are posted and, when in doubt, slow down to 20 mph. It may save a child's life.