School zones were introduced to improve students’ safety when walking in the streets around their school.
Despite being introduced across Australia, there remains some confusion among motorists, especially drivers without children, as to when school zone limits apply.
When do school zone speed limits apply?
Reduced speed limits apply whenever a school within the zone is in session. On weekends, public holidays and school holidays, school zone limits generally do not apply.
This can be confusing when private or independent schools often run to different term dates than state schools. Sometimes several schools will share the same zone, all with different holiday dates. Provided at least one school is open, the school zone will remain in effect.
If you are unsure whether a school zone is in effect, newer school zone signs feature helpful flashing lights. If you still aren’t sure whether a school zone is in effect, slow down to the signed speed. You can be fined and potentially issued demerit points for speeding in a school zone, with police unlikely to accept ignorance of school holiday dates as an excuse.
School zone times
There are no standardised school zone times in Australia — the times vary depending on the school and the local council. The signage in the area will display the times the school zone is in effect.
Most school zones operate in the morning for a period between 7am and 10am, then again between 2pm and 4pm.
Some schools with a split campus may have a school zone in effect the entire school day — again, the sign should reflect this.
School zone speeding statistics
Research from Suncorp Insurance, released in 2016, found almost one in five drivers admitted to knowingly speeding in a school zone.
Many motorists believe driving a few kilometres over the limit in a school zone is acceptable and unlikely to result in harm. It’s important then to consider stopping distances increase exponentially the faster a vehicle is moving. At 40km/h, the average family car travelling on a dry road will need to brake for nine meters before stopping and at 50km/h, 14 meters is required.
This assumes the driver reacts immediately to their surroundings, which is rarely the case. Government research shows the average driver takes 1.5 seconds to respond to the movements of other road users and pedestrians - a potentially deadly delay.
It should be noted that children are often not as safety conscious or aware of the dangers of the road. They can be distracted by their friends and busy surroundings and can sometimes unpredictably walk or run out into traffic.
School zone safety tips
When you next drive through a school zone or are dropping-off or picking-up your children, keep the following in mind:
Take care, slow down and look out for unpredictable pedestrians and children.
Reduce your speed to or below the signed speed limit.
Avoid distractions from the occupants of your car, mobile phones, or the pressure you may feel if you’re running late.
Say goodbye to your children on the school side of the road. If they need to cross, walk them over to the gate.
Similarly, try to meet your children at the gate after school and walk them back to the car rather than calling out to them from across the road.
If traffic is making it difficult to find a park or keep a safe distance from crossings, try getting out of your car with your children a few streets away and walking in together. This could save you time and is good exercise for you and the kids.
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Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: January 12, 2021.