School Zone Safety in Washington State

By Dewey-Kollen, Janet | Law & Order, August 2004 | Go to article overview

School Zone Safety in Washington State


Dewey-Kollen, Janet, Law & Order


It's back to school time across the United States and that means drivers must slow down and observe school safety zones. Reminding drivers to reduce their speed in school zones is a perennial challenge for enforcement agencies from Miami to Missoula.

Thanks to proactive safety laws passed by the Washington State Legislature and creative traffic safety programming by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), law enforcement agencies and schools in Washington can get help in their efforts to reduce school zone speeding.

Speeding Leads to Double Fines

Eight years ago, the WTCS conducted surveys to document the extent of its school zone speeding problem. These surveys showed that although speed limits were posted at 20 mph during specific times, speeds in excess of 50 mph were observed. At certain locations as many as half of the motorists were not complying with reduced school zone speeds.

In response to community and citizen concerns, in 1996 the Washington State Legislature passed a bill (RCW 46.61.440) that doubled the fine for speeding in school cross-walks and playground zones. The fine, now $177, cannot be waived, suspended or reduced. Half the proceeds from the fine go to the WTSC for their School Zone and Pupil Transportation Safety Project and the remaining funds go to the state treasury.

Armed with the higher fines and renewed support for school zone safety, the WTC secured an initial authorization of $300,000 to conduct a proactive safety program to improve compliance of speed limits in school zones.

Objectives of this program included: 1) providing law enforcement agencies with motivation and tools to aggressively enforce school speed limits; 2) supplying funding for school zone improvement projects; 3) developing a public education campaign informing motorists of the school zone laws; and 4) providing increased signage at school zones.

Citations and Safety Soars

Response to the state's School Zone Safety Project has been overwhelmingly positive, and eight years later the program is still going strong. Fines from school zone speed violations now fund more than $1.5 million in program activities biannually. According to WTSC School Zone and Pupil Transportation Safety Project Program Manager Lynn Drake, $1 million of these funds go to law enforcement for speed measuring devices and other equipment to enhance school zone enforcement. The remaining $500,000 is used to fund school-based education programs, pupil transportation projects and small capital improvements.

"This program is a true success story- good for our kids, good for families, and good for police in Washington State," Drake, a former officer, said. She estimates the project has collected and spent $6.3 million on school zone safety since September of 1996. From July 1, 2003 through April 2004, more than 14,000 school zone violations were written in the state.

An estimated 90% of the law enforcement agencies in Washington have participated in the program which is open to all enforcement agencies in the state. Most law enforcement agencies conduct the school zone enforcement as a part of their regular enforcement details, although the WTSC does provide limited overtime funds for special enforcement periods.

Currently, the program will provide $1,000 in equipment for every 40 school zone citations written. According to Drake, "Many enforcement agencies in the state have received radar, Lidar, portable breath testing units and other safety equipment. We have even funded cars and motorcycles dedicated to school zone speed enforcement with the cost of these units covered by fines. …

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