Jackson Park school zone illustrates enforcement problems

The in basket: Perhaps nothing perplexes the driving public like school zones and their speed limits. I often get e-mails decrying the wide variety of zones, which can be in effect during certain hours, “when children are present,” when lights mounted on the sign are flashing, or, rarely, 24/7, as in front of Bremerton High. 

Sometimes, it all befuddles even the police officers who enforce the zones, if two Road Warrior readers recall their experience correctly. 

Both got ticketed in the same school zone, the one in front of Jackson Park Elementary School on Austin Drive.

It is a “when children are present” zone. Present, for this purpose, means on the shoulder, sidewalk, in the street or crosswalk, or somewhere with quick access to those points, says Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police’s traffic division. In the schoolyard or inside the building doesn’t constitute being present under the law.

Corliss Johnson wrote in November 2007 that he was ticketed there, even though there was not a child in sight. 

“I would never think of putting a child in harm’s way,” he said, but the officer told him, “There are always children present.”

Then in May 2009, Bob Cole had the same misfortune. That officer told him school zone speed limits are in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., period, Bob tells me.

That school zone is a problem for openers because it lacks the required signage where the school zone ends, theoretically making all of Austin Drive after one passes the school zone sign a 20 mph zone.

But if Corliss and Bob recall their conversations with the two police officers correctly, the citations were based on a faulty understanding of the law.

The out basket: I asked Lt. Fisher about the two assertions supposedly made by his troops.

He told me, “Enforcement for the school zone speed must be congruent with the method used to mark the school zone.

Children have to be present at any school zone posted ‘When Children Are Present’ for officers to write a speeding-in-school-zone citation.  If no children are present, then the officer should just write a speeding citation.”

Bob had the badge number of the officer who ticketed him. I asked Pete to find out if that officer  is of the belief that school zone speeds are in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. regardless of what the signs say, or was of that belief in May 2009. Pete said he has had that talk, but it’s a personnel matter he can’t discuss further with me. “But I do appreciate you coming forward with the information,” he added.

I recall getting a complaint even before I began writing Road Warrior in 1996 about a school zone stop in front of South Kitsap High School, by a state trooper. I can’t recall the specifics, but I concluded at the time the citation wasn’t based on the law. 

I also recall sitting in on Bremerton Municipal Court after BPD ticketed dozens of drivers for doing more than 20 in what then was a school zone on Sheridan Road just uphill from Wheaton Way. It, too, was a “when children are present” zone, and many of the cited drivers said they didn’t see any children.

Judge Jim Docter admitted that to find in the driver’s favor was tantamount to calling the citing officer a liar, which he declined to do. He upheld most of the tickets. 

School zone tickets cannot be excused, or the fine reduced.

I can see why officers feel no obligation to point out the children that made the 20 mph limit effective. By the time they radio in the stop and the license number and await any crucial information, the children can be out of sight. They might even have gotten legal advice saying not to be that specific, I suppose. 

But it’s very likely to make a driver feel like he’s been had when he leaves convinced the ticket was unfairly issued. 

That’s why I love the “when flashing” school zones signs. 

They eliminate most of the uncertainty about when the speed limit drops to 20.

Pete said he will work with city public works to get the requisite “end of school zone” signs posted on Austin Drive, but in the meantime, the location of the school zone sign for those heading in the opposite direction would signify the end of the zone.

4 thoughts on “Jackson Park school zone illustrates enforcement problems

  1. Some one should look at the school zone posting on Madrona in South Kitsap. Heading north on Madrona near Lund you pass a 25MPH sign and than an end of school zone sign. I am sure that if anyone was paying attention and trying to follow the signs they would be confused. So I guess the question is, which sign is correct?

  2. The stretch of Central Valley Rd between Fairgrounds and 303 can be confusing also. There are two areas with the flashing lights within one long school zone. A lot of the time, one set of lights is flashing and not the other. So, can you speed back up to the normal speed limit after you pass the flashing light for the opposite direction or do you have to wait all the way to the end of the school zone past the second school?

  3. “Pete said he will work with city public works to get the requisite “end of school zone” signs posted on Austin Drive, but in the meantime, the location of the school zone sign for those heading in the opposite direction would signify the end of the zone.”

    This is not what was stated in a prior Road Warrior column. If there is no “End School Zone” sign then it is the Speed Limit sign that dictates when the school zone ends. By Pete making this statement I believe that the police could overrule what he says and ticket those that they want to who have passed the opposite school zone sign but haven’t yet reached a speed limit sign.

  4. WHY AREN’T SCHOOL AREAS ALL POSTED THE SAME!!!! Might even
    save money on printing all those different signs!
    Would be ALOT less confusing for EVERYONE!!!!
    No wonder people get frustrated!

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