If you are a student or a parent of a student in the Methow Valley School District, you were probably aware of the rash of traffic stops last spring right near the entrance to the schools, where, presumably, drivers were receiving either tickets or warnings for speed limit violations. Reportedly, some of those tickets were fabulously hefty, because fines double in school zones.
I’ve lived on Twin Lakes Road and worked in Twisp for 10 years, so I’ve passed the “Speed Limit 20 mph When Children Are Present” signs thousands of times. And finally my inquiring little mind got curious enough to investigate what “when children are present” means, since it is exceedingly rare to actually see kids arriving to school in anything other than a vehicle, aside from a few seasonal bikers.
I get it. We used to bike to school with my kids a lot. But parts of Twin Lakes Road are under-shouldered, and it’s scary, especially given how many drivers are watching their phones, not the road. (Which — not to digress too far — extends a driver’s reaction time as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08%, according to a University of Utah study.)
So, the real question is: when are we supposed to go 20 mph near the school entrances, and when is it OK to go the speed limit of 50 mph? To answer this question I, uncharacteristically, did some official research, which real journalists refer to as “fact-checking.”
The Okanogan County Sheriff’s office told me that the reduced speed limit technically applies to any time children are outside on school property near the roads, but for a motorist to be issued a citation there would need to be children physically and visibly present and not in vehicles — like kids walking/biking/rollerskiing along the side of Twin Lakes Road or the driveways to the schools. If it’s summer, or the kids are all inside the buildings, or out back on the sports field, motorists can legally drive at the normal posted speed.
I looked up the RCWs (Revised Codes of Washington), and they all blab on about crosswalks this and sidewalks that, which obviously has no relevance in a school district where the road in front of the schools is covered in snow half the school year, and there are no crosswalks or sidewalks anyway.
The bottom line is this: The 20 mph zone is a very short stretch of road, populated twice a day by hundreds of residents of our community, most of them young. The 30 or so extra seconds it takes to drive 20 mph instead of 50 mph is inconsequential when stacked up against almost anything, but particularly when stacked up against a possible injury or worse. If in no other ways in our lives we are able to, at least here — in front of two buildings that house the valley’s youth — we can at least slow down.