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Even with school speed zone changes, stay vigilant

It's probably best that Oregon's 24-hour, seven-day 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, including West Linn, schools are either located alongside a city park or serve as a playground in areas where a park is not nearby. 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 previous 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. But there were exceptions to the 24-hour rule, and motorists not familiar with a school zone had to read the fine print on the sign as they drove by at 35 mph. For example, the sign for Rosemont Ridge Middle School had beginning and ending hours listed on the sign in small letters, and there were no flashing lights on the sign.

Confusion doesn't add to the overall safety of a community or of the 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 to observe and cite offenders and explain laws to citizens.

Taking heed, the 2005 Legislature amended the school-zone speed law with new rules that took effect July 1. Motorists are now required to slow to 20 mph between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. on school days. They're also required to slow if a flashing school-zone light is activated, although there are no flashing lights near West Linn schools. The new speed limit hours also apply to crosswalks near 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 only by signs.

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

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