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School Speed Zones Surprise Many


Cities love to have their police officers write speeding tickets. In most cases, once the ticket is written, the monetary fine quickly follows. In some parts of the country, there have even been rumors that officers have "quotas" of tickets to write to fill city coffers with fines wrenched from the pockets of unsuspecting motorists. One arena in which many drivers find the rules confusing is that of school speed zones. They often are marked differently or confusingly, and they often change the speed limit in effect at different distances from a school during a different hour of the day.

In one instance, for example, a driver failed to see an orange flashing light placed in proximity to an Ohio elementary school. That light was to notify drivers that at certain times of the day, when the children are coming to or going from the school, the customary speed limit of 35 mph on surrounding streets is reduced to 20 mph. A Columbus, Ohio, police vehicle soon appeared at 8:35 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. The officer explained the school zone to him in a fairly forceful manner.

The driver, who was handed a ticket, could protest that the orange light wasn't flashing, but it turns out that state law does not require that the light be flashing for the school speed zone to be in effect at the designated time. In fact, the law does not even require that the sign attached to the orange light spell out the hours that the school speed zone is in effect. These facts may lead some to speculate that the point of this is not entirely the laudatory goal of protecting school children.

For most criminal offenses, whether for a felony or a misdemeanor, notice is required in the law as to what conduct to avoid to not be punished. This is true, perhaps to a lesser extent, for petty offenses and even for traffic tickets. Some cities classify traffic tickets as civil offenses in an attempt to try to avoid some of the procedural protections otherwise afforded to those accused of crimes.

Could, in fact, the absence of such requirements actually be intended to ensnare unsuspecting drivers for financial gain? Some say, however, that the key is the presence of school children or school buses, and that when they are present, motorists should just slow down.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "When are speed restrictions in school zones in effect?" Rich Rouan, Nov. 11, 2013