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New York School Zones

Drivers in a hurry need to be alert for New York schools zones. The roads immediately surrounding a school building are especially perilous for drivers and pedestrians. Children crossing the street, riding their bikes and trying to get to their parents’ cars are heartbreakingly easy targets for careless drivers. In this often chaotic mix of kids and cars, the potential for tragedy is high. Therefore, the state of New York has special laws governing drivers’ behavior in New York school zones, including reduced speed limits and enhanced fines.

State Speed Limits

In New York, speed limits are governed by the Vehicle and Traffic Law, article 30, §1180. There are several sections in this statute, but the most important is section A, which states that “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” So, any time you drive at a speed that’s unsafe for the current road conditions, you are breaking New York law.

How do you know if the speed you are traveling at is reasonable and prudent? You are supposed to use your best judgment, but just to make sure that everyone is on the same page, speed limits are posted to advise you of the maximum speed that the state considers reasonable and prudent for that particular stretch of road. Except for certain highways where the speed limit is posted and signed at 65 miles per hour, the maximum speed limit in New York is 55 miles per hour. However, roads can be posted with lower maximum speed limits based on local conditions and the results of traffic studies.

In school zones, maximum speed limits are usually much lower than normal while school is in session or children are present. The exact speed limit will vary depending on the circumstances, but will be posted before you enter the school zone. The lowest speed limit that is allowed under New York law is 15 miles per hour.  School zones can extend as far as 1,325 feet away from the school, about ¼ mile.

How do you know when to slow down? Usually, the sign that indicates you are entering a school zone will tell you what hours the school zone is in effect for. Schools zones may be in effect anytime between 7 am and 6 pm, depending on the needs of the school. Alternately, the signs that indicate you are entering a school zone may have flashing lights instead of defined hours. Whenever the lights are flashing, the school zone is in effect. However, the lights can’t be 24-7-only for a period of 30 minutes prior to school activities, during the activities, and for 30 minutes after.

The maximum posted speed limits are supposed to give drivers an idea of what the maximum “reasonable and prudent speed” is under ideal conditions. If there are adverse weather or traffic conditions, you need to take that into consideration and slow down. Even if you are under the maximum posted speed limit, you can still get a speeding ticket if a police officer feels that you are going too fast for the road conditions at the time.

Fines for speeding in a school zone

Ideally, the fact that children are present would be enough to get drivers to slow down. Unfortunately, some people are in too much of a rush to worry about the consequences of speeding in a New York school zone. They just want to get to their destination quickly. Since speeding in school zones is a common problem, New York law provides a little incentive for you to slow down: extra fines! Fines for speeding in a school zone are double the amount you would pay for a normal speeding ticket. The exact amount of the fine depends on how fast you were going when you got the ticket, as shown in the table below:


MPH over school zone speed limit
Fine Amount
10 and under $60-$200
Greater than 10 but less than 30 $120-$400, 15 days in jail, or both
Over 30 miles per hour $240-$800, 30 days in jail, or both

If you don’t want to give the state of New York this much of your hard-earned cash, remember to be alert for schools and to slow down when you are in a school zone!

Importance of child safety

Sure, school zones are annoying when you are trying to get somewhere. Having to slow down to 25, 20 or even 15 miles per hour is its own unique form of torture, particularly when you are in a hurry. However, as difficult as it may be for you to believe, school zone speed limits are not set that low just to torment you. The speed limits are set like that to protect the children that attend the school.

Low speed limits in school zones protect children in several different ways. First, they give you, the motorist, enough time to see a child in your path and then slow down to a stop before it is too late. The distance that it takes for you to stop your vehicle gets longer and longer the faster you go. Children are harder to spot than adults because they are shorter, and they are more likely to jump out into the street in front of you, too. According to the National Safe Kids Foundation Pedestrian Injury Fact Sheet, children do not develop their full auditory and visual acuity, depth perception and ability to scan for oncoming cars until they are at least 10 years old.

Nobody likes to think about it, but kids do get hit. The National Safe Kids Campaign reports that traffic-related pedestrian injury is the second leading cause of accidental death in children under 14. In New York itself, 1,890 child pedestrians between the ages of 5-13 were involved in an accident in 2006, according to accident statistics provided by the New York DMV. 12 of those children died.

The slower speed limits in school zones also help keep children safe if an accident does happen. Most school zone speed limits are 25 mph and below, and that’s not a random number. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign’s brochure Child Pedestrians at Risk in America: A National Survey of Speeding in School Zones, children are 8 times more likely to die if they are hit by a car going 30 miles per hour than they are if they are hit by a car going 20 mph or less. Setting the speed limit at 25 or below not only reduces the likelihood of a child getting hit by a car, it also reduces the chances of serious injury or death in case there is a collision.

However, reduced speed limits can only protect children if people actually abide by them. So, the next time you are in a school zone, remember to slow down and obey the signs! If you can’t bear the thought of following the school zone speed limit, you have two options. Speeding is not one of them. You can either make a point of not driving when school zones are in effect, or you can to look up a different route that doesn’t pass so close to a school.

School zone identifiers

How do you know when to slow down for a school zone? There are several different types of signs you need to keep an eye out for. One of the most common school zone signs is the school zone speed limit sign. This sign looks like a normal speed limit sign except for the fact that it has a yellow rectangle on the top. The yellow rectangle has the word “school” written in across it in black letters. This sign will either have the hours that the school zone is in effect written across the bottom, or it will have yellow flashing lights attached, or both. A school zone sign with flashing lights and the words “when flashing” on it means that you must slow down only when the lights are on and flashing.

You may also see yellow pentagon-shaped signs with pictures of an adult and a child walking on them. This indicates that there is a school crosswalk nearby. Be alert for children crossing the street at the crosswalk. The crosswalk will be marked in white on the street. Remember, pedestrians have right of way, and you are required to yield to children in the intersection. If there is a crossing guard present, make sure to follow all of his or her instructions. Crossing guards are there to keep you safe and to keep the children safe, too.

In New York, painted curbs and painted roadways may be used to mark a school zone, but only as a supplement to signs, since pavement markings can become difficult to see in snowy winter weather.  As long as you are observant and keep your eyes peeled for traffic signs, which you should do anyway, you should have no problem realizing when it’s time to slow down.

Finally, keep an eye out for the “End school zone” sign. This sign is there to advise you that it’s safe to start picking up speed again. Until then, remember to follow all of the rules for New York school zones in order to keep our students safe and sound.

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