We are all familiar with the yellow school zone signs. Because many of those signs stay up every day, year-round, it can be confusing to know when school is in session and the speed limit has temporarily dropped down to 25 MPH or 15 MPH limits. The penalties for speeding through an active school zone can be severe.
Here in Virginia, speeding tickets are punished by fines as well as negative demerit points put on one’s DMV history. The fine is usually $6 per MPH over the speed limit. The demerit points for non-criminal speeding tickets are:
- 3 points for speeding 1-9 MPH over the speed limit
- 4 points for 10-19 MPH over the speed limit
- 6 points for 20 or more MPH over the speed limit (the same as for DUI or Reckless Driving charges!)
But with speeding in an active school zone, the judge has discretion to raise the fine all the way up to $250. Va. Code § 46.2-873(G). Even worse, because the speed limit during school hours is usually 25 MPH or less, a driver who does not notice the speed limit has dropped will often be going 20 or more MPH over the limit. If this happens, the police can charge the driver with criminal reckless driving. Va. Code § 46.2-862. A conviction brings a permanent criminal record, a fine of up to $2500, and the possibility of up to 12 months in jail and a 6-month license suspension.
State officials consider speeding in a school zone to be a serious issue for many reasons. It adds increased risk to children attending school. It is harder to respond to obstacles in the road when traveling at higher speeds. An unsafe speed can be the difference between injury and fatality.
Drivers are not always responsible for injuries to pedestrians. Children sometimes wander out into the road without looking for traffic. Still, the fear of injuries remains strong among parents: 63% of parent respondents in one DOT survey cited traffic on streets adjacent to schools as a concern that prevents them from allowing children to ride their bike or walk to school.
Enforcement deploys various means
Several measures are in place to identify speeding drivers in school zones, including speed feedback devices, police vehicles parked nearby, and even photo speed monitoring devices, which were recently approved for use in school zones.
Drivers may need to protect their license
This, in turn, can lead to a date in traffic court. Some drivers find that law enforcement was overzealous in their enforcement. It could be regarding the boundaries of the school zone (which cannot be more than 600 feet from the school property limits), the time of day (school zone signs may be turned on for 30 minutes before and after regular school hours), and whether the school zone signs were blinking properly (the officer should confirm this at the start and end of his shift). Va. Code § 46.2-873.
Those who wish to fight this ticket can often turn to attorneys who specialized in defending traffic violations. These experienced professionals can work towards reducing criminal charges to non-criminal violations, lowering the fine, and minimizing the demerit points put on their clients’ driving records. An attorney can help avoid having one’s driver’s license suspended and one’s insurance premium increase substantially because of a ticket.