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Leave well enough alone

Editorial

It's not time to fix the school-zone law yet; give motorists more time

In an attempt to eliminate confusion over the 20-mph speed limit in school zones, the 2003 Legislature created even more confusion by making the limit effective 24 hours a day ' but not in every school zone.

Now, some lawmakers have decided that the old confusion was better than the new confusion. They are backing a bill to return to the when children are present rule ' sort of.

The old rule said simply that the speed limit in marked school zones was 20 mph when children are present.

State statutes said ' and still say ' that children are present at any time and on any day when they are in a crosswalk, waiting on the side of the road at a crosswalk or when a crossing guard is present.

That seems pretty straightforward to us. But it apparently wasn't straightforward enough for motorists or for legislators, who decided that this was confusing, and passed the 2003 law.

The new law says the 20 mph limit is in force 24 hours a day, seven days a week, except on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or greater, where the limit is in force when a yellow light is flashing or during posted hours.

— Now, several lawmakers, including Reps. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, have signed on to a bill that attempts to split the difference between the old and new laws. The new bill would make it legal to exceed 20 mph in a school zone when no children are present, except when lights are flashing.

OK. Forgive us for asking the obvious, but if the original law was too confusing for motorists because they were unsure of the meaning of children are present, how will it be any less confusing to tell them they can drive faster than 20 mph when no children are present?

We'll admit to wondering ourselves about that children are present rule in the past. And it certainly took us awhile to grasp the ins and outs of the new version.

But we've observed something remarkable since the 20-mph limit became full-time for most school zones on residential streets, where the permanent speed limit is 25 anyway. People are actually slowing down to 20 mph in school zones ' much more often, it seems to us, than they used to.

And let's face it: How much time is lost by slowing from 25 to 20 for the length of the typical school zone? A few seconds at most. And we all know that children can appear out of nowhere, moving at near-warp speed, at nearly any hour and in all kinds of weather.

It is tempting to tinker with the law. But that will almost certainly add confusion in drivers' minds and, perhaps, jeopardize children. Let's leave well enough alone, and wait a little longer to see how the existing rules work out before we throw up our hands and go back to the old rules.