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Traffic Q&A: Back to (driving) school edition

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on Sep. 1, 2011 at 8:51 am with 1 Comment »
September 1, 2011 8:51 am

With school starting this week in Tacoma, Puyallup, Federal Way and several other districts and elsewhere next week, it’s a good time to review some FAQs about school zones and school buses. Over the years, we’ve gotten more questions on this subject for our Traffic Q&A column than any other.

Who decides where to put school zones? Why do they extend seemingly far away from a school? Where does a school zone end if not posted?

State law (RCW 46.61.440) determines school zones based on the location of school crosswalks. A school zone extends 300 feet on either side of a school crosswalk.

In addition, the statute gives cities and counties the ability to extend school and playground zones 300 feet from the border of the school or playground, “however, the speed zone may only include area consistent with active school or playground use.”

The law allows zones to extend beyond 300 feet from a crosswalk “based on a traffic and engineering investigation.”

The 2010 Legislature imposed double fines “for drivers who fail to stop for a pedestrian or bicyclist within a crosswalk that is marked with school or playground speed zone signs.” Double fines already are in effect for speeding in school zones and illegally passing a school bus.

How do I know when the school zones are in force? The signs are inconsistent and confusing.

School zones are signed in different ways:

• When flagged.

• When signals are flashing.

• During specified times.

• When children are present.

It’s the last one that seems to perplex drivers most. In case you don’t have a Washington Administrative Code handy in your glove compartment, here’s how it defines “when children are present”:

“School children are occupying or walking within the marked crosswalk; or school children are waiting at the curb or on the shoulder of the roadway and are about to cross the roadway by way of the marked crosswalk.”

When must I stop for a school bus?

You must stop behind a school bus with its lights flashing red and stop sign extended if you are in the same lane or an adjacent lane – either in the same direction or an opposite direction – or if it’s at an intersection you’re approaching.

When don’t I have to stop for a school bus?

From the state Driver Guide:

“You are not required to stop for a school bus with red lights flashing when the stopped school bus is traveling in the opposite direction and the roadway:

• “Has three or more marked traffic lanes.

• “Is separated by a median.

• “Or is separated by a physical barrier.”

Leave a comment Comments → 1
  1. I had a strange one regarding a school bus last winter in Lakewood. The signs specifically stated 20mph when flashing. The lights were not flashing. But I had to follow a school bus with its lights flashing and doing 20mph. The driver did the same thing at the next school. Both times I was in a situation where I could not legally pass the bus (2 way left turn lane or double yellow line). I was told that is Clover Park’s instructions to their drivers no matter the time of day.

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