Today marks the first day back to school for most elementary and high school students in the Brandon School Division, and with that fact comes a new reality for Brandon motorists.
Any drivers on their way to work, the grocery store or any other errand best be wary of their speed if their route goes near a school, or they could face a financial hit.
We’ve been warning the public in the lead-up to the new speed limits, but the information is worth repeating. Following a change in provincial legislation that allowed municipalities to lower speed limits in school zones, Brandon City Council approved a reduction that will see drivers forced to slow down to 30 km/h in residential school areas.
The traffic bylaw took effect on Monday, the start of September, and will run between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. until the end of June.
The reduced-speed school zones will apply to 20 schools in the city. There are a few exceptions — the intersection of 18th Street and Victoria Avenue near Earl Oxford Middle School, as well as Victoria Avenue East near King George School.
Motorists should expect to see Brandon police officers out in full force ensuring the public is aware of this change. And while the effort will be primarily to educate drivers this week — meaning minor violations may well get off with a warning — police have the right to hand over a heavy fine to those who are barrelling through school zones.
Already police have been on the lookout for speeders in Winnipeg. Just as in Brandon, the new speed limit took effect this week around 171 Winnipeg schools, and the change seemed to catch many drivers off guard.
Winnipeg Police Sgt. Russ Heslop, who was monitoring drivers near Victoria-Albert School on Tuesday, told CBC radio that officers were catching one speed limit violator per minute "at minimum." Anecdotally at least, a few drivers were telling police officers that they simply didn’t see the signs. Others said the signs were obscured.
This could be simply chalked up to driver neglect — drivers are responsible for paying attention to the road — but there is something to be said for sign overkill when it comes to school zones.
As we wrote earlier this year, as an example, there are more than two dozen signs on just the one side of Louise Avenue in front of École New Era School, including multiple "No Parking," "No Stopping" and "No Idling" signs, as well as crosswalks and the new speed limit signs. There’s also a stop sign at the end of the block, a fire hydrant to be aware of, and "No Trespassing" and "Warning" signs at the schoolyard entrance.
While drivers may indeed get used to the volume of signs, it’s plausible that some parents are at maximum cognitive load. We fully expect police to hear similar complaints to those in Winnipeg, in that drivers "simply didn’t see them."
And unsuspecting drivers — or those who simply choose to ignore the signs — are going to pay heartily for their lead feet.
Under Section 95 of the Highway Traffic Act, if you are stopped for driving 40 km/h (i.e. 10 kilometres over the speed limit), you can face a fine of $181.50. A speed of 50 km/h in the reduced speed school zone could earn you a $312.25 fine. If you’re caught going 60 km/h, expect a fine of $442.75.
We’re still not convinced that a strong enough case was made for the implementation of new school zone speeds. But now that we have them, it’s important that motorists take heed.