Local police step up school zone enforcement

Less than half of the 18,000 students in Columbia Public Schools ride the bus to school.
As students return to school, the Columbia Police Department resumes enforcement of school zone speed limits throughout the area.

Speed limits in Columbia school zones will be heavily enforced by Columbia police until Aug. 31, courtesy of an $8,000 grant from the state.

The extra enforcement is a reminder to motorists to be particularly careful in school zones and to obey the 20 mph speed limit, according to a Columbia Police Department news release. It is not a response to specific schools reporting problems.

During the summer, school zone speed limits don’t apply to motorists. With college students returning to Columbia, the extra enforcement might be a helpful reminder for young drivers to obey the speed limit.

A driver caught speeding in a school zone will be ticketed, and the fine will be an additional $50 for endangering children.

The Missouri Division of Highway Safety grant allows officers to work overtime enforcing school zone speed limits, CPD Traffic Unit Sgt. Curtis Perkins said.

"We have selected a few days during the month of August to have additional officers on overtime through the traffic grant described above to be in the school zones," Perkins said in an email. "It can be from a couple of extra officers up to four or five additional officers."

The grant also enforces speed limits on Interstate 70 and Highway 63.

The extra enforcement began Thursday, which was the first day of classes for Columbia elementary schools. Police are primarily concerned with safety at elementary schools because many elementary school students will be at school for the first time and have little to no practice using crosswalks.

"We target areas which have high crash rates or potential for high crashes or serious injury," Perkins said. "This is how the school zone enforcement comes in, as it is an area where there is a potential for crashes causing serious injury due to drivers not paying enough attention to their driving where there are young kids walking."

Nearly 18,000 Columbia K-12 students returned to school this year, according to Columbia Public Schools officials. Out of those students, about 12,000 walk, ride a bicycle or are dropped off at school, and less than half take the bus.

Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people 15 to 20 years old, according to the Arrive Alive website. From 2008 to 2010, Columbia has seen 215 traffic crashes, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation. Of those crashes, 18 were fatal.

Missouri school zones are clearly identified. Yellow, pentagon-shaped signs are used to indicate a school crossing. Lettering on the asphalt warns drivers they are entering a school zone. White signs indicate the school zone speed limit and hours during which it is enforced, and flashing lights indicate a school zone is currently active.

Safe Routes to School is a national program working to increase the number of students walking or bicycling to school while also improving the safety of those activities. Its website states increased fines, along with a “zero tolerance” policy for drivers speeding in school zones, will improve the safety of children and motorists alike.

Parents and residents at an Aug. 2 city input meeting expressed concerns about speeding cars and busy streets around schools such as Lee Elementary School. City-funded signs that flash drivers’ speeds were installed to help slow down school zone traffic. The group agreed to do a traffic study one month into the school year to see if these measures, along with law enforcement of the speed limit, have made a difference.

The Walking School Bus program, organized through PedNet Coalition, is in place at Grant Elementary School. The program allows parents to drop their children off at a nearby meeting spot, where a group of parents and students then walk to school together.

"Extra enforcement has deterrent affect that results in compliance with traffic laws even when we are not in the area," Perkins said. "It also educates drivers and makes them aware of the school zones since during the summer most of the school zones are not in effect, and school just started for the new school year."

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