TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Const. Alice Potter of the Brandon Police Service traffic unit monitors traffic using a laser speed gun in a school zone on 26th Street on Wednesday morning. Several drivers got off with warnings for travelling faster than the new 30 km/h speed limit.
It’s back to school, but this year it’s not just students who will have something to learn. Drivers have a new lower school zone speed limit to wrap their heads around.
Wednesday marked the first day of the new school year, and the first day of school since lower speed limits outside of schools came into effect.
"A lot of people are still unaware," Brandon Police Service Const. Alice Potter said of drivers. "It will take some time, that’s why we’re giving a grace period."
Provincial legislation passed earlier this year allowed the city to create 30 km/h speed limits at city schools. They’ll be in effect 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays to Fridays, from September to June.
The zones took effect on Monday and as of Tuesday afternoon, city police had issued 24 warnings but no tickets.
No tickets were written because the force is focusing on education for the first couple of weeks. They will still write tickets, however, if drivers go too far over the limit.
"We don’t want to come down hard but, at the same time, officers can still exercise their discretion," BPS Sgt. Dallas Lockhart said.
On Sept. 22, police will blitz school zones for a week. That’s when the "zero tolerance" approach kicks in and tickets will be written (speeding also comes with a pair of demerits against a driver’s licence). After that, there’ll be regular enforcement.
City police started to monitor the school zones using warnings on Monday and that effort continued on Wednesday.
Potter took up position with a speed-reading laser near J.R. Reid School on the 800-block of 26th Street as parents and pupils arrived at school.
One child who passed by asked her mom why police were there. "Because people are jerks and speed along here," the mom replied.
Lisa Park and her sons, Lucas and Isaac, were in the middle of the street, crossing at a lighted crosswalk outside the school, when the driver of an SUV hit the brakes and stopped abruptly in front of them.
The sudden stop caused the startled mom and her two boys to jump, before the trio made it safely to the other side. Park pointed to the scare as an example of why she likes the new zones.
"I think it’s great. I used to live in Calgary and they had playground zones and school zones," Park said. "I think it may add an extra 20 seconds onto your day, but kids are worth it."
Another parent said the zones were a long time coming. There are crosswalks near J.R. Reid, but drivers don’t always see children or bother to stop for pedestrians.
"It will just make people aware that they’re in a school zone," Natashia Vandenberghe said.
But Potter said she expects it will take drivers time to get used to slowing down at schools.
One driver, who broke down in tears when she was pulled over, told Potter that she heard of the new speed limit on the radio as she drove into the city.
She often drives past J.R. Reid School, but still didn’t notice the zone despite the warning signs and went through at 50 km/h. This time she got a warning, but usually she’d get a $312 fine.
Jason Parker admits he was in a hurry when he got pulled over. He had less than a minute to get to work while passing J.R. Reid.
Despite the signs, and reading about the new limit in the media, he didn’t think of the school zone until he saw Potter’s yellow vest — too late.
He got a warning for going 60 km/h. Normally, he’d get a $442.75 fine and would have received two demerits, which would hike his insurance fee.
Despite that, as a father of three children, he said he supports the new school limit as a safety measure.
"It’s the best idea in the world," Parker said.
Another driver, who got a warning for doing 51 km/h (worth a $325 fine and two demerits), said he’d heard about the new limit on the radio the day before. Still, he didn’t see the signs and only realized halfway through the zone when he saw school crossing guards.
He vowed to slow down in the future, as the new 30 km/h limit gives drivers more time to react.
"It is a really good idea, because kids that age don’t know … they’re not watching for vehicles," said the man who asked not to be named.
Not everybody, however, was happy about the new limit.
Potter — in her police uniform — was standing on the centre median, packing up her laser equipment, when a driver stopped briefly in the street to tell her what he thought. He then drove off.
Potter chuckled as she shared what the driver had said.
"He said that it’s absolutely ridiculous having this, and he said: ‘I hope you’re going to be giving me tickets for going too slow, because I’m going to refuse to go over 10 km/h,’" Potter said with a laugh. "I was like — really?"
Police also remind motorists that even though students are older at high schools, school zones are still in force. They say Neelin High School has been especially bad for speeders.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 4, 2014