Lesson in School-Zone Light Discrepancies

The in basket: The Road Warrior gets a lot of questions from drivers who seen oddities in the flashing lights that indicate school zones and when the speed limit is 20 miles per hour there.
Wes Moore said in February, “The lights don’t necessarily blink in coordination with school hours. I’ve seen them blinking when all children have been safely in their classrooms for over half an hour). Similarly, I’ve seen children walking home on early release Thursdays with no lights blinking.”


The in basket: The Road Warrior gets a lot of questions from drivers who seen oddities in the flashing lights that indicate school zones and when the speed limit is 20 miles per hour there.
Wes Moore said in February, “The lights don’t necessarily blink in coordination with school hours. I’ve seen them blinking when all children have been safely in their classrooms for over half an hour (yes, I know that different schools have different hours – but all are in class at 9 a.m. as witnessed by the empty roads and sidewalks). Similarly, I’ve seen children walking home on early release Thursdays with no lights blinking.”
Cindy Wilcoxon said last November that her daughter got a school zone speeding citation “for not driving 20 mph in a school zone after school had been out for over an hour, when no children were present and the signs weren’t flashing.” Cindy said she has taken to driving 20 mph whenever she goes past the schools on Central Valley Road, where the sheriff’s department has been quite active in enforcement, “and it seems to infuriate some drivers who insist on driving on my tail when I do this.”
Terry Cowen of North Kitsap has the best story. She was ticketed in front of Kingston Junior High for doing 36 mph at 7:13 a.m. one day early this month. It turned out the flashing light wasn’t flashing for eastbound traffic that included her, but the westbound light was flashing and a deputy sheriff coming the other way saw it and stopped her.
Terry said the county traffic investigation office told him both lights were supposed to come on at 7:20, but the eastbound light came on early. “There was no way I could have known that the one at the other side was blinking,” she said. “Is there any way I can contest the ticket without having to miss a day of work to go to court?”
The out basket: Those flashing lights and their timing are a lot more sophisticated than I would have imagined before talking with Larry Hugel of the Kitsap County traffic signal shop. It’s the county, not the school or school district, that operates those lights, and for the past three years, it has relied on high technology.
Larry’s staff times the lights by radio signal sent via computer. But he said the software hasn’t been working right, and the lights don’t always come on or go off when they are supposed to. Terry Cowan’s story is quite plausible because of those problems, he said.
Being able to time the lights remotely saves his three-person staff a lot of travel time, Larry said, but the time saved isn’t worth having the lights operating incorrectly. They are working with the software provideron corrections but may choose to go back to manual timing, requiring a trip to each light to make any changes.
It seems Terry’s chances of acquittal are very high, given the likely malfunction of the light, but I don’t know of any way to get that done without going to court. Judge Stephen Holman, who hears a lot of these, says the court staff is willing to assign a date convenient to the person ticketed, but you can’t get an acquittal without you (or your lawyer, which could cost more that a day’s pay) going to court.

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