School zone dangers

Published: May. 19, 2011 at 1:26 PM EDT|Updated: May. 20, 2011 at 3:12 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - If you asked a 100 people if they would want to see someone speeding through school zones, most if not everybody would say "no."

But drivers all over the Tri-State are breaking the law in school zones where your kids are walking to and from class.

"It's pretty rare actually to get someone going right at 20 miles per hour," said Bob Rose from the Goshen Police Department.

Signs with blinking yellow lights tell drivers to slow down, but during our FOX 19 undercover investigation we noticed not many drivers following the rules. We watched as car after car sped through school zones at double and even triple the speed limit.

Officers like James Taylor from the Goshen Police Department are setting up in school zones and pulling over drivers when necessary.

"The biggest thing that I see is that driver inattention," said Taylor.

One driver was stopped going 16 miles per hour over the limit.

"I was doing a 36 in a 20 and I wasn't paying attention," said Tony Schawb.

So what happens if a student isn't paying attention and walks in front of a car traveling at that rate of speed?

"Only 10 percent of children will die from that initial impact at 20 mph, now you increase that by 10 mph to 30 mph, that's more than 50 percent," said Rose. "So a 10 mph jump grossly increases the chances of the child's death and a speed of 40 mph and above, it's determined that 90 percent of the time the child is going to die from a 40 mile per hour strike."

According to The Transportation Research Board, more than 100 children are killed every year while walking to and from school. About 25,000 are injured.

"I think you just get involved in thinking about other things when you're driving and you just don't pay attention to what you're doing even though it is a school zone," said Schawb.

Safe Kids USA says one in six drivers in school zones are distracted and the common reason is a cell phone. Safe Kids USA also found that drivers are more distracted in the afternoon when children are getting out of school than when they are going to school.

Those numbers shocked Nakisha Davis, a parent who walks her daughter to and from school every day.

"They drive fast everywhere in all of the school zones and I think it's dangerous," said Davis. "I don't want her to get hit by a car or any kids to get hit by a car."

"What people need to realize is that when school is letting in and when school is letting out or during the school day that is the school zone, so the speed limit is 20 and the law does not require it to have a flashing yellow light," said Rose.

So just how important is it to obey the speed limit in a school zone?

To find out, we did an experiment with the help of the Goshen Police Department to see how long it takes to brake at different speeds.

At 20 miles an hour, it took more than 25 feet to stop.

Then we drove our station vehicle in the Goshen High School parking lot.  We traveled about 30 miles per hour and set a traffic cone out in front of us about 10 feet in front of where that cross walk would be. Our stopping distance was 41 feet, and we plowed right over that cone.

If you ever wondered, fines for speeding in school zones vary state to state. But we can tell in both Ohio and Kentucky, fines automatically double for speeding in school zones. In Indiana, speeding in a school zone is considered a more serious infraction than a regular speeding ticket, but it's up to the judge about whether or not to increase the fine.

So what are the traffic laws in a school zone?  Here are the rules.

  • When school is in session, automobile drivers are responsible for taking note of and respecting the traffic laws related to school zones. Driving laws are set on a state level, but the various vehicle codes related to school zones are very similar in concept across states. The main purpose of a school zone is to protect children from careless drivers.
  • A driver must reduce his speed significantly when he enters a school zone at times when kids are coming to or out of the school. The required speed limit is posted at the entrance to the school zone to eliminate confusion. The locality is given the power to set the school zone speed limit. The entrance of a school zone is usually marked with flashing traffic signs to notify the driver that the lowered speed limit is in effect.
  • Regardless of whether the light is green, a driver must yield to the demands of the crossing guard in school zones. If the crossing guard's hand-held "stop" sign is up as she stands in the intersection, all drivers must avoid passing through that intersection until all children have passed and the guard leaves. Drivers must also yield to school buses in school zones per most state laws. When the bus driver's "stop" sign is facing out, drivers from both directions must wait until the driver pulls it back. This is because children could be crossing the street or running for the bus after leaving school.

Some states have laws that assess tougher fines to drivers for traffic offenses in school zones compared with regular traffic zones since children are put at risk when the driver disregards school-related traffic laws. The additional penalties help discourage reckless driving in these areas. The fines for driving over the posted limit or failing to give the right of way to a crossing child could be as much as double the usual cost. The driver could receive as much as three points on his license for disobeying a crossing guard or bus driver. Repeat offenses could lead to prompt suspension of the driver's license.

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