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California School Zones

California drivers who are in a hurry need to watch out for school zones. Whether children are starting the school day in the early morning or rushing to escape it in the afternoon, their presence means that drivers must be extremely careful.  When you drive near a school, you have to avoid large numbers of children walking to and from the school building, school buses and their parent's cars. To help keep these children safe, California school zones are given special consideration in the state Vehicle Code. Drivers are required by law to be alert for school buildings and for the special traffic signs and road markings that indicate a California school zone. Inside a California school zone, extra caution is required and special speed limits apply.

California speed limits

 In California, you are legally required to travel no faster than is "reasonable" based on the current weather and traffic conditions. However, that does not mean that you get to decide for yourself without any limits what speed you should travel. The Vehicle Code sets maximum speed limits for various types of roads throughout the state. Even if you feel a faster speed would be "reasonable and prudent," you cannot exceed the designated speed limit without risking a ticket. Under Section 22351of the vehicle code, you would then have to prove in court that the speed you were driving was reasonable and prudent under those conditions in order to get the ticket dismissed.  It's much better to obey the posted speed limit and not take chances! However, even if you are going under the posted speed limit, you can still be given a ticket for speeding if the police officer feels that conditions such as weather and traffic made the posted speed unsafe. Here is a quick rundown of the maximum speed limits laid out in the California Vehicle Code:

  • Highways: 65 miles per hour
  • 2 lane undivided highways: 55 miles per hour
  • Business or residential district: 25 miles per hour
  • School zone (within 500 feet of a school): 25 miles per hour

Both the state and local municipalities have the power to change these speed limits if an engineering and traffic study proves that a different speed limit would be a better fit based on local conditions. However, school zone speed limits are always 25 miles per hour or under. Also, the Vehicle Code was recently amended to allow local municipalities to reduce the school zone speed to 15 miles per hour without a traffic study if the road approaching the school is in a residential district, has a maximum of 2 lanes, and a regular speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less. Under these conditions, municipalities also have the option of extending a 25 mph school zone to 1000 feet from the school instead of only 500.

School zones apply only during the hours when children are going to or leaving the school, and to the noon recess period when they may be playing outside.

Fines for speeding in a school zone

Fines for speeding in a California school zone are treated the same as fines for speeding anywhere else. California has a uniform schedule of fines for speeding, which reads as follows:

  • Speeding by 1-15 miles per hour over the limit  is a base fine of $25
  • Speeding by 16-25 miles per hour over the limit is a base fine of $50
  • Speeding by 26 miles per hour the limit and over is a base fine of $100.00

That doesn't sound too bad, does it? Unfortunately for you, if you've been caught speeding in a California school zone, that's only the beginning. California also has a state penalty system that will dramatically increase these basic fines. These extra penalties more than double the amount that you can expect to pay for speeding in a school zone. For example, once all the penalties and surcharges are tacked on, that "base fine" of $25 jumps up to $99! What about the $50 fine for going 16-25 miles per hour over? Expect to pay $175. If you were going 26 miles per hour or over, the final amount you'll pay will be closer to a whopping $350!

Under certain circumstances, you may be given the option to take traffic school to get the speeding ticket off of your record. This is a golden opportunity, because after the state gets through with you, if the ticket goes on your driving record you’ll still have to face your insurance company. If you take traffic school instead of just paying the fine, the ticket will be dismissed, so your car insurance rates won’t be affected. Driving University offers an online defensive driving course that is accepted by many California courts for ticket dismissal. With our course, you don’t have to spend all day stuck in a stuffy classroom-just log into your computer whenever you have time. Once you’ve passed the test at the end, we’ll put your certificate of completion in the mail the same day. 


Importance of child safety

Sure, it's hard to go 25 miles per hour or under, much less 15. Time seems to crawl by when you're in vehicle that’s moving that slowly. However, California school zones have reduced speed limits for one very important reason: to protect children. According to the Pedestrian Injury Fact Sheet issued by the National Safe Kids Campaign in 2004, children's "auditory and visual acuity, depth perception and proper scanning ability develop gradually and do not fully mature until at least age 10." That's one reason that school age children are so vulnerable to being hit by cars-they simply are not as capable as adults of knowing when it's safe to cross. According to the fact sheet, in 2002 approximately 31,609 children nationwide were sent to the emergency room after being hit by a car.

When a child is hit, their smaller bodies are also less able to physically withstand the impact with a vehicle than an adult. When a small child is hit by a car, the bumper usually strikes the child’s thigh and the front hood strikes the torso.  Obviously, an impact with a vehicle that’s centered on a child's torso has the potential to cause some pretty devastating injuries. The speed the vehicle is going is a major determining factor in just how severe those injuries are. If a child is a hit by a vehicle, he or she is 8 times more likely to die if the car is going 30 mph than if it moving under 20 mph, according to the brochure Child Pedestrians at Risk in America issued by the National Safe Kids Campaign. California school zones have low speed limits for a reason! Not only do they give drivers more time to stop if a child is in front of them, they also reduce the chance that a parent will lose their son or daughter forever if there is a collision.

However, even with the speed limits in place, accidents are still happening. For example, in 2005, approximately 3,131 children aged 5-14 were injured by automobiles in California, according to the report Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety issued by the California Office of Traffic Safety. This publication also noted that California school zones "have been identified as danger zones for aggressive driving habits and behaviors." California school zone speed limits are not in place to frustrate you, make you late or ruin your day. They are there to protect vulnerable children and it's important that you respect that. If you can't resist speeding in a California school zone, you should consider re-routing your trip.

School zone identifiers

How do you know when to slow down for a California school zone? In case you aren't able to see the school itself, the state has some distinctive traffic signs and other markers to alert motorists that they are entering a California school zone. California uses a uniform set of traffic control devices to indicate what to do in various school zone settings. This helps keep drivers from being confused and reduces the chance of an accident occurring. Standard California school zone identifiers can consist of a couple of different types of signs. One common California school zone sign is a yellow pentagon with the figures of an adult and a child walking drawn in black. This sign is generally used to warn of an approaching school crossing or to direct drivers' attention to the school crosswalk itself. Remember, children have right-of-way in a school crosswalk. If you see this sign, you need to slow down and be alert. If you see children entering the crosswalk, stop for them.

Also, California school zones have special speed limit signs, with the word "school" in yellow on top of a white rectangular sign that shows the school zone speed limit. Pay attention to these signs, and also watch for the presence of children. Some states have only specific hours when the school zones are in effect, but according to the California Vehicle Code Section 22353, school zone speed limits are in effect anytime children are present. When in doubt, slow down. Yellow diamond shaped signs that say "School Zone Ahead" are also used to give California drivers an advanced warning of an approaching California school zone. The pavement may also be marked, with the words “Slow, School Zone” or “Slow School Zone Xing” written in yellow. Whenever you see any of these signs, it means that children may be present nearby, so remember to SLOW DOWN!

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