We’ve all seen the signs, “School” “Speed Limit 20” “When Children are Present”. So what does this mean? Do you have to see a child to be required to go 20 mph? What if school is getting out and you can see them but they aren’t at the crosswalk yet?
The law doesn’t explain what “Children are Present” means, but in the Washington Administrative Code, the phrase is defined as:
- When school children are in the school zone crosswalk.
- When school children are waiting at the curb to cross the roadway on the crosswalk.
- When school children are walking on the sidewalk or shoulder of the road in a school zone.
Ok, so that helps a bit, but what about weekends? Holidays and summer? It is meant to mean any time a kid is in one of those places the speed limit is 20? I guess the answer is it’s better to go 20 than risk getting a hefty ticket ($234) or worse, hitting a kid.
Signs of Change
Some of the older signs in Spokane County say, “When Children are Present” however, the county is making changes to include beacons with a sign that says “Or When Flashing” of some just say “When Flashing”.
However, the “Or” didn’t work for a Seattle judge who dismissed a ticket because the signs were too wordy and confusing not giving the driver enough time to read the signs, scan for kids or flashing lights, then react and slow down.
So maybe it is best is to drop the “When Children are Present” and use the flashing beacons to indicate when drivers are supposed to slow to 20 mph. Whichever signage is used, when you are in a school zone, you have a duty to drive with caution.
School Zone Liability
The laws are there to protect kids going to or leaving school. However, if someone is injured in the school zone, do the speed limit laws make a difference? If you were going 20 mph but still hit someone, will compliance work in your favor?
The answer is probably not. When it comes to someone suing a driver for hitting them in a school zone, the law looks only at whether the driver was negligent. This is determined by looking at the actions of the driver and comparing them to what a reasonable prudent driver would do under the same circumstances.
One scenario is that the driver is going slow, but fails to see a person in the crosswalk. Failing to stop for someone in a crosswalk is not what a reasonably prudent person would do. Another might be that the driver is going 20 mph, but a child darts out in the crosswalk right in front of the car. A jury could easily see that the driver was being reasonable and prudent, but the child ran out in front of the car.