Make school zone laws driver friendly

Are you confused about driving in a school zone? Well guess what? You are not by yourself.

Here are some examples of confusion. What does the wording, when children are present, mean? Do you need to obey the school zone speed limits during the upcoming summer vacation? What about holidays and the weekends? As a driver education teacher, I am faced with these questions on a daily basis.

Now, first of all, obviously school zones are important. Certainly, no one wants to hit a student, ever. One can only imagine the traumatic tragedy that could occur both for the student and also for the driver.

But the question is, why should this simple “rules of the road” be confusing?

Let’s start with the first question: What about summer vacation? The answer is maybe. Some schools do operate summer school.

If students are supposed to be in school during the day, why do we even need special zones for schools? Most drivers were confused about our current school zone laws. Most want to know why we even need school zones. The short answer is to protect the kids.

My issue is as follows. Why doesn’t Indiana codify the present school zone rhetoric into simple and easy-to-follow rules? I believe we should not only codify them; I think we should change the approach to school zones dramatically.

In dealing with my students, I could simply tell the student that they must obey the sign because it is the law. Students are taught to obey all laws of safe driving.

However, a number of people think the school zone laws should be modified. A couple of years ago, the Hancock County Commissioners did a rather intensive traffic study. The commissioners changed several Hancock County speed limits, including those in school zones. As with any decision, there were some motorists that were happy campers and some were not happy campers.

At the time I talked to commissioners Tom Stevens, Brad Armstrong and Derek Towle about their rationale. They explained it quite satisfactorily. There are two fundamental problems with school zones in Indiana.

1. Have you ever driven through a school zone, and you did not have a clue where the school zone ended? Well, a few years ago, Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, was posed with this question. Rep. Cherry was instrumental in authoring a bill to change this. Now when one drives through a school zone, we know where it ends.

2. Let’s take a look at what the State of Indiana’s BMV manual says about the subject. “If you are driving near a school zone, you must slow down to the lowest speed limit for the school zone. Common hours for school zones are 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

Now for the caveat: “However, local authorities may establish lower speed limits for school zones when children are present.” So even though the manual is straightforward, the “rub” comes in when local authorities can modify the law.

I do not wish to get into the issue of state versus local government; just allow me to state my proposal.

I propose a police car at every public, private, charter and parochial school in the state of Indiana. Also, I would propose flashing yellow lights at each school crossing. I would lastly like to propose that all school zones get on the same page as to time of day and speed limit.

Drop the ambiguous signage that appears in some school districts. I realize that these proposals are costly and that the legislature would need to be the one to work with the local agencies to fix the problem.

But it can be done. Another less costly proposal would be a simple one. It is not a new idea. Several years ago, the now defunct Indianapolis News had a novel approach to school safety.

The News initiated a Green Flag safety award. Each school was presented a green pennant. The pennant was green with white lettering. A white star was awarded for each year that the school remained school zone accident-free.

This flag concept is an inexpensive way to call attention to school zone safety. Remember, if just one priceless child is spared from being hit by a vehicle, then all the money, time and effort would certainly be well with it.

Have a happy and safe time driving. And watch those school zones.

C.O. Montgomery is a former teacher and township trustee. He is a New Palestine resident.