It’s almost back-to-school time! If you’re a parent, this means morning rushes, carpool strategies, and futilely trying to get your kid out of bed at a reasonable hour. And if you’re just a daily commuter, this means increased traffic before and after school.
The return of the school year also means that you must respect the laws and responsibilities that come with driving in a school zone. But what exactly are those rules? We’ve laid out an overview of school zones, so you know how to drive safely and without penalty in these high-risk areas.
What is a “school zone” ?
A school zone is an area near a school district. These zones will have reduced speed limits (usually between 15 and 25 miles per hour) during specific hours, because this is when children, students and pedestrians will be most active in the area.
How are school zones designated?
School zones will usually be designated by special signs, and almost all school zones will have multiple signals in advance so that you have time to prepare for them. This could include flashing lights, speed limit signs and school zone signs leading up to the zone, speed bumps, etc. Make sure you’re driving distraction-free, so that you’re paying attention to these signs and know exactly what to expect.
Fines in a school zone
Traffic fines double and sometimes triple in a school zone.
Driving in a school zone
1. Reduce your speed
Most school zones have speed limits of 20 mph or less. Pay attention to the warning signs leading up to the school zone so that you have time to reduce your speed without having to slam on the brakes.
2. Expect increased traffic
The hours between 7-9am and 3-5pm are when you’ll encounter the most traffic in school zones, as this is when most parents will be dropping off or picking up their kids. Foot traffic also increases around a school zone, whether it’s students walking to/from school or parents escorting their kids to school. Practice safe driving and always be on the lookout for pedestrians, and make sure you give them the right of way.
3. Yield to buses
Yield to buses at all times. You MUST stop if you see yellow or red lights, and the stop arm deploy. Give buses a greater following distance than if you were driving behind a normal car. It is illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load or unload. Remember that children will behave unpredictably, so make sure you’re being vigilant around stopped school buses.
4. Obey traffic officers and guards
Traffic officers and crossing guards can override any traffic signs or signals, and can halt traffic for the safety of students and parents who may be crossing the street. You must always stop for a school patrol officer or crossing guard holding up a stop sign.
5. Other safety tips to keep in mind
- Make eye contact with pedestrians.
- Come to a complete stop at stop signs and crosswalks.
- Don't block the crosswalk when stopped. This forces pedestrians to go around you and potentially puts them in moving traffic.
- Don't honk your annoyances.
- Do not pass a vehicle stopped for pedestrians, as you run the risk of hitting said pedestrian (especially ones as unpredictable as kids!).
- Avoid passing or changing lanes in a school zone.
- Put your distractions down and give the road your full attention.
- Are you a daily commuter? Try changing your route to avoid school zones altogether. This also helps with traffic congestion around school areas.