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Fines double in school zones? School crossing signs and the law

Between 1994 and 2004, 184 school-age pedestrians were killed in the U.S. by cars, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA), making cars the nation's top killer of young pedestrians. Nearly half of all school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes were five to seven years old, reflecting young children's limited impulse control and inability to select appropriate gaps for crossing traffic.

Local governments use a number of strategies to keep America's school zones safe--in particular, traffic calming and signage (discussed at some length here). This article will examine the legal significance of School Crossing and School Zone signs to drivers, and how they work to protect young pedestrians.

While the definition of a "school zone" is straightforward (it comprises all streets adjacent to school property), the meaning of "school crossing" actually varies slightly from state to state. In Nevada, signs are placed on "those sections of streets not adjacent to school property that pupils cross while following a designated walking route to school," while California designates school crossings as "all marked crosswalks along the 'Suggested Route to School.'"

These areas are recognizable by their signage, which is federally regulated by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). School crossing signs must be at least 30-by-30 inches, colored yellow or yellow-green, shaped as pentagons, with black writing and a black border. To ensure visibility, the MUTCD dictates that these signs be either illuminated or, more commonly, retroreflectorized (designed so that in headlights they reflect directly back at drivers). Often, School Crossing signs are preceded by what the MUTCD calls "Advance Crossing"--that is, a School Crossing sign combined with a plaque reading "XX FEET" or "AHEAD" (see diagram below). These signs warn drivers that they are approaching an area where schoolchildren cross the roadway.

So how do passive signs protect children who are crossing a street? First, American rules of the road state that pedestrians always have the right-of-way at crosswalks, whether marked or unmarked, rolex replica watches so the yellow of a School Crossing sign is--like all yellow road signs--a visual signal for drivers to slow down. In school zones, many drivers acknowledge that extra caution is particularly important, given the unpredictability and limited judgment of children.

In addition to the right-of-way privileges of pedestrians, some jurisdictions invest school zones with a unique legal standing that allows for increased police protection. For example, fines for speeding or other violations within designated school zones may be increased, and special enforcement techniques (such as photo radar systems) may be implemented.

While the MUTCD recommends that governments "mark the beginning and end points of these designated school zones" such signage is only "sometimes legally necessary." In this way school crossings are similar to construction zones: nearly all states have laws that increase the fees for speeding while in a work zone, but only 41 require signs alerting drivers to those more severe penalties. The takeaway for drivers: when you see a yellow sign of any shape, slow down, and perk up.

 
School Crossing Road Signs Source: MUTCD 2009

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