There's no denying that it's frustrating to get caught behind a school bus. And following the speed limit on posted school zone signs often feels silly when there's not a child in sight. But failing to do so puts children's lives at risk, and can result in some pretty serious consequences if you are caught.
Despite the consequences, many still ignore school zone signs. Over 80% of Canadian parents have witnessed unsafe driving in school zones. This is despite the fact that ignoring school zone signs can result in hefty fees, demerit points, losing your license, or even jail time.
Plus, unsafe driving often leads to higher auto insurance costs, which nobody wants. To avoid all of these issues and to keep school children safe, you need to learn the rules for driving near schools and school buses. This article will tell you everything you need to know, so keep reading to learn more.
Understanding and Obeying School Zone Signs
School zone signs are fluorescent yellow, five-sided signs with a picture of two schoolchildren on them. As evidenced by their name, they indicate that you are near a school. School crossing signs also have this image, but also include a downward-pointing arrow; these indicate areas where children cross the street.
You should pay close attention when you see either of these signs. Not only do school zones keep children safe, but different laws, speed limits, and fines for breaking rules are in effect in school zones.
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When Are School Zones in Effect?
Before we delve into the exact laws, speed limits, and punishment for breaking these rules, you need to know when to pay extra attention to the school zones.
School zones are in effect between 8 am and 5 pm on school days. They aren’t in effect during breaks from school, such as PA days, holidays, and summer break. There are exceptions to this, which will be posted alongside the school zone signs.
Even though they are not always in effect, it is still important to obey these school zone signs at all times. Not only does this get you into the habit of driving safely in these areas, but there is still a good chance that there will be children around the school. It is always better to be safe than to be sorry—especially in situations where the consequences are so severe.
What Are the Most Common School Zone Signs in Ontario?
In order to ensure you are following all the rules, you first need to know what school zone signs to look out for. In Ontario, there are several signs that can indicate you are entering a school zone.
School Zone Sign
The basic school zone sign is a five-sided, yellow sign with an image of pedestrians crossing the street. This indicates that you are entering a school zone, and as a result should exercise caution and look out for children.
This is one of the most important signs to watch out for, as it indicates that you are entering an area where you need to pay extra attention in order to keep children safe and avoid hefty fines.
School Zone Signs With Flashing Lights
School zones will often have a modified speed limit that is in effect during school hours. This is demonstrated by school zone signs that have flashing red or yellow lights.
These lights are helpful for drivers because they indicate when the speed limit is in effect. They help draw attention to the sign, and take the guesswork out: if the lights are flashing, you need to follow the modified speed limit. If they are not flashing, you don't (but still exercise caution in these areas, of course).
Reduced Speed Limit Ahead Sign
If the speed limit is reduced in a school zone, there will often be a "reduced speed limit ahead" sign. This is a white sign with the speed limit and an arrow pointing to indicate that you need to begin slowing down. These are helpful to ensure that you are going at the proper speed before entering the school zone.
Community Safety Zone Sign
Sometimes school zones will also have a sign to indicate that there is an increased risk of pedestrians. Fines are increased in these areas. The sign is a white rectangle that says “community safety zone – fines increased.”
School Bus Stopping Signs
Often you will see signs that will indicate you are in a common school bus loading zone. A school bus drop-off sign reminds you to stop for the school bus when the bus lights are flashing. Some signs in multi-lane roadways remind you that both directions must stop for the bus.
These laws are in place whether or not you see this particular sign, but the sign is helpful to remind you to look out for buses.
School Bus Loading Zone
School zones might also have a school bus loading zone sign, which indicates an area where school buses don’t use the stop arm and lights when they load and unload passengers. You should be cautious in these areas as there will likely be children.
School Bus Pick up and Drop Off
It's always good to drive safely, but especially around school buses — this is not the time to show off your new car! There are laws in place to protect children entering and exiting school buses. You need to be aware of these to avoid incurring fees or causing an accident.
When a school bus has its red flashing lights on and stop-arm out, you must always stop, no matter which direction you are coming from. If you are coming up behind the bus, you need to stop at least 20 meters before reaching the bus and should not move until the lights are off. If you meet the bus coming from the other direction, you have to stop before reaching the bus and wait until the lights are off to proceed.
The only exception to this is if you are on the other side of a highway with a median strip. In this case, you don't need to stop for the bus. Still, be cautious because children are not always aware of their surroundings and may act unpredictably.
It’s illegal to fail to stop for a school bus with its lights on. Failure to do so can result in fines up to $5000, demerit points, losing your license, or even jail time depending on the circumstances.
Even if you don't see a police car around, you still need to stop. Some bus stop-arms have cameras to catch this kind of behavior. It endangers children who are being picked up and dropped off, so laws have really cracked down on it.
The school bus driver and other drivers who witness this can also report you, and you will be subject to fines. In Ontario, if you are the registered owner of the vehicle reported, you will no question, receive a fine by mail. If this isn’t witnessed by a police officer, however, you won’t receive demerit points or jail time.
School Zone Speed Limit
Fines for speeding in a school zone are up to 60 percent higher, so you should always follow the speed limit. The speed limit in school zones is between 30 and 40km/h. There are many signs that indicate the modified speed limit, so there is really no excuse for speeding in school zones.
What Are the Rules for Driving in a School Zone?
School zone signs exist for a reason. They help indicate that you are in a school zone and remind you of the laws in place in these areas. You need to be aware of driving rules in order to drive safely in school zones.
First and foremost, you need to recognize when you are in a school zone. As mentioned before, there are tons of signs to indicate that you have entered or are about to enter one.
Follow the Speed Limit
School zone speed limits are often significantly lower than the surrounding area. You need to be aware of the speed limit and follow it at all times. Signs denoting a speed change will warn you to slow down, which can help avoid last-minute braking.
Yield to Pedestrians
When in a school zone, you need to take extra care to pay attention to any pedestrians. Often there are crossing guards in school zones to help the children cross the street safely. You must follow any instructions issued by these crossing guards.
Pay close attention, and watch for children who are entering or exiting vehicles and buses.
Yield to School Buses
Anytime there is a school bus, you need to yield to it. You should never pass a school bus, no matter how slow it is moving. When their lights are on and the stop arm is out, always stop.
Passing a school bus is dangerous and will come at a cost. $400-$2000 fines and demerit points are in place to punish those who don’t abide by these rules.
How Effective Are School Zone Rules?
Unfortunately, not all drivers follow these rules. According to a CAA poll, nearly half of Canadians witnessed distracted driving and 70% witnessed speeding in a school zone. And almost a quarter of drivers reported seeing a near-miss collision, often involving a child. That is a shocking statistic.
In Toronto, a radar found that 21% of vehicles sped through the school zone. This is unfortunate, considering school zone signs are in place to protect schoolchildren from reckless driving. Luckily, lawmakers are cracking down on this sort of behavior by increasing fines and punishments.
Are Playground Signs the Same as School Zone Signs?
You should also be aware of playground signs, which are in effect year-round. These indicate that you are near a playground. They are not the same as school zone fines but have similar speed limits and increased fines.
Playground signs are yellow and diamond-shaped, and they are in effect from dawn until dusk. This is because children may be playing on the playground even if school is not in session.
What Are the Fines if These Rules Are Disobeyed?
Fines for speeding in a school zone are based on how fast you are driving. You will have to pay a fee and possibly accumulate demerits if you are caught speeding in these areas.
The fee varies by place, but it is usually pretty hefty. For example, failing to follow the school zone speed limit in Ontario can cost from $400 to $2000. And if you’re a repeat offender, these fines can increase.
These fines are in place because it is extremely dangerous to speed in a school zone. Driving recklessly in a school zone can also increase your insurance rates.
Lower speed limits are necessary. A lot of the pedestrians in school zones are children, who may not yet be aware of proper street safety. And driving slower in school zones means that you will be in control of your vehicle and able to stop before a potentially deadly situation occurs.
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Follow School Zone Rules at All Times
Paying attention to school zone signs at all times protects children from reckless driving. It also protects you from tickets with huge fees and increased car insurance premiums.
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