A Spokane Valley resident’s mind had wandered for just a few moments Wednesday when he suddenly realized he was speeding in a school zone.
An orange caution cone jerked him back from his thoughts. About that same time, a traffic officer clocked 50-year-old Dave Reinhardt going 9 mph over the 20 mph limit.
“I guess my mind was on something else for a few minutes,” Reinhardt said. “I’ve been driving through here for six years. I’m always very aware of the school zones.”
The car salesman knew he’d violated the law as soon as he was pulled over. He thinks the law is “self-explanatory.”
However, it isn’t always clear to drivers when the 20 mph school zone speed limit is enforced in Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Tom Warner, a traffic officer for the Spokane Valley Police Department, says it is his job to make sure the law is clear to all motorists he interacts with, because the consequences of violating it can be devastating.
“I know people get upset when they get a ticket in a school zone, but I’ve been to too many kid vs. vehicle accidents,” Warner said. “I had to pick a kid’s teeth up off the ground once.”
Reinhardt accepted the $171 traffic citation, with remorse, and went to work. The citation was $70 more than if he’d committed the same violation in a regular speed zone.
He was one of three drivers ticketed Wednesday morning for violating the school zone speed limit while Warner was patrolling the areas near University High School and University Elementary School, which the officer said is average for a weekday during the school year.
From August 2001 to April 30 of this year, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office has issued about 2,000 citations in Spokane County, including Spokane Valley, to motorists who violated school zone speed limits. Figures for citations issued in Spokane were not immediately available.
But even though the school zone areas are clearly marked with black-and-white signs, Warner admits there are some gray areas.
The signs say the limit applies “when children are present,” but how that is perceived can be subjective.
For all areas of Spokane County and in Spokane, the speed limit is not enforced during school recess, during sporting events or during after-school activities including nighttime events.
The speed limit also isn’t enforced after school has been let out for the summer.
The 20 mph school zone speed limit applies only when children are walking on the sidewalk, arriving at school or leaving it in all areas of Spokane County, with one variation in Spokane.
The school zones around the high schools are posted 20 mph between 7:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., police Lt. Dean Sprague said.
Drivers must obey the speed limit during those hours regardless of whether they see kids outside. It’s posted that way because the high schools have open campuses.
Warner thinks the Valley should apply the same laws as Spokane around its high schools.
Sometimes the high school students are more apt to run out in front of traffic than the elementary kids, Warner said.
It takes the average driver 1½ seconds to react to a perceived danger. If someone is going 20 mph, it takes them 19 feet to stop.
If they are going 30 mph, it takes them 42 feet.
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