Our Northwest

What does 'present' mean on school-zone road signs?

Thursday, August 25, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

girl walking at crosswalkWith school resuming soon, let's test your safe-driver knowledge.

You're driving near a school and see a sign: SCHOOL – SPEED LIMIT 20 WHEN CHILDREN ARE PRESENT

What does that mean, precisely, "When children are present?" Is it:

  • Slow down to 20 mph when school is in session?

  • Slow down to 20 when children are within sight?

  • Slow down to 20 when children are in or approaching a crosswalk?

Oregon revised its school-zone law in 2006. For school zones on roadways adjacent to school grounds, 20-mph speed limits can be either “when flashing” (if there's a flashing sign) or “school days 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.” Read the full Oregon school-zone law.

I assumed the answer for Washington would be found in state law RCW 46.61.440, "Maximum speed limit when passing school or playground crosswalks." However, the law is ambiguous to me. It does clarify that the speed limit applies with 300 feet of any marked crosswalk, but it doesn't clarify what "present" means.

Seattle's Department of Transportation does define "present" on its website. It says:

     “When Children Are Present” is legally defined by any of the following conditions:

  • School children are walking within the marked crosswalk.

  • School children are waiting at the curb or on the shoulder of the roadway to cross at the marked crosswalk.

  • School children are present or walking along the roadway, either on the adjacent sidewalk or on the shoulder.

Speed Limit 20 sign with flashing yellow light Additionally, Seattle says that for signs that include a beacon, when the light is flashing, the speed limit is 20 MPH – even if children are not present.

It would take a long time to confirm this definition with every Washington municipality. PEMCO suggests you choose to play it safe and always slow to 20 mph in a signed school zone.



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