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Devil was in details of school zone speed law

Confusion doesn't add to the safety of a community or its streets

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, there have been no 24-hour school zone reduced speed limits. The zone created special problems on Country Club Road between Lake Oswego High School and Lake Oswego Junior High School, where a flashing light was installed to show when the speed limit was enforced.

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 effect 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.