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Illinois School Zones

Illinois school zones pose a unique set of hazards for drivers, especially drivers who are in a hurry. Whenever school in session, the area around a school building is filled with the pitter-patter of little feet. Children walk to and from school, to and from school buses, and to and from their parents' cars. To help protect children, Illinois has a special set of laws that govern driving in a school zone. Ignoring these laws can have tragic results. Make sure to pay attention so that you know when the rules apply.

Illinois Speed Limits

Illinois speed limits are set out in the state Vehicle Code. Like most states, Illinois has a Basic Speed Law and a set of default speed limits. The Basic Speed Law states that drivers may not drive any faster than is reasonable and proper based on local traffic and weather conditions. So, even if you are technically going the speed limit, you can still get a ticket if you are going too fast for the conditions you are driving in. The Illinois Vehicle Code also sets default limits for various types of roads:

  • rural interstates: 65 miles per hour
  • interstates and highways near major cities: 55 miles per hour
  • urban areas: 30 miles per hour

It's good to know these default speed limits so you use them as a guideline. However, the Vehicle Code also gives both the state and local municipalities the ability to change the speed limits based on local conditions as well as engineering and traffic studies. Drivers must always pay attention to the posted speed limit signs. These signs indicate the correct speed limit on the road they are traveling on. Also, any time you pass by a school, keep an eye out for signs that indicate you are entering a school zone. In Illinois, the school zone speed limit is always 20 miles per hour when school is in session and children are present. School zone hours are usually 7 am to 4 pm, but if all the kids are inside for classes then you may continue going the normal speed limit. However, if you see a child outside the school building, Illinois law states that you must slow down to 20 miles per hour.

Other school zone laws

There are a couple of other laws that you should be aware of when traveling through Illinois school zones. For one thing, all school zones are no passing zones. Also, when you are approaching a school crossing area, please remember that any children or adults in the crosswalk area do have right-of-way. When you see the crosswalk come into view, be prepared to stop.

Fines for speeding in a school zone

What happens if you get an Illinois school zone ticket? To start with, you can expect to spend some time in traffic court. In Illinois, school zone speeding tickets require a court appearance, so there's no way you can just deal with the ticket via the mail. Also, you'll pay a hefty fine. If it's your first offense, you'll pay $150 to the state and then an additional $50 fine to the school system, for a grand total of $200 plus court costs. If it's your second offense, you'll face a minimum fine of $300, plus an additional $50 fine to the school district. The fines that are given to the school district are used to pay for Illinois school zone signs and safety equipment.

If you actually hurt someone in a school zone, you'll be in even more trouble. In 2007, the state passed "Jeff's law," which stipulates that anyone speeding through an Illinois school zone who hurts or kills somebody is assumed to have been "acting recklessly." Plus, if you cause great bodily harm to a child or a crossing guard in a school zone, you could go to jail and be fined up to $25,000!

Importance of child safety

Sure, going at 20 miles per hour can seem like torture. The seconds crawl by, slower than molasses, as you inch your way across the school zone, cursing the speed limit the whole time. However, the 20 MPH speed limit was not chosen just to make your skin crawl. Low speed limits protect kids in two different ways: by reducing the chances of a collision and by reducing the severity of a collision if one does occur.

Nobody wants to hit a child. In fact, for most people, the mere thought of running over a child is a nightmare. Unfortunately, however, children are easy to hit. For one thing, they are small. This can make them harder to see than adult pedestrians. Also, kids are more impulsive, and therefore more likely to cross at the wrong time or to pop out from behind a parked car. In fact, according to the Pedestrian Injury Fact Sheet published by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, the cognitive abilities necessary to cross a street safely are not fully developed in some children until age 10. Slowing down gives you more time to react if a child crosses the path of your vehicle. The faster you go, the longer it takes you to stop. It just makes sense to reduce that stopping distance as much as possible when children are involved.

If you were to actually hit a child, obeying the 20 MPH speed limit helps limit the severity of the injuries that would be inflicted. Going 20 instead of 30 could literally save a child's life. For example, according to the National Safe Kids Campaign, a child hit by a car is 8 more times likely to die if the car is going 30 mph than if it going 20 mph or less. The injuries to a child hit by a car can be tragic. Their bodies are smaller and more fragile than adults. The less force there is behind the blow, the better off the child will be.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, in Illinois in 2006, 92 children between the ages of 5-18 were killed in automobile accidents. Almost 12,000 were injured. Although the child pedestrian death rate is lower now than it was in previous decades, there are still a lot of accidents! In fact, according to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, pedestrian injury is the second-most common cause of accidental death among children in the US. Next time you are in a hurry to get through a school zone, think about how you would feel if you hurt or even killed a child, and slow down!

Speeding in a school zone is dangerous! If you just "can't take" going 20 miles per hour, you would be better off redrawing your route to go around the school zone. Imagine how you would feel if one of those 92 children that died in 2006 were your child. It's selfish to put children at risk just because you are in a hurry, so please make sure that you obey Illinois' school zone laws when you are in a school zone.

School Zone Identifiers

How do you know when its time to slow down? To make sure drivers know when they are in an Illinois school zone, the state has several distinctive ways of marking off the school zone area to make it stand out from the surrounding road. The Illinois Vehicle Code requires that drivers be given appropriate notice of an approaching school zone, so the signs should start even before the school zone itself does.

One of the most common Illinois school zone signs is a yellow pentagon shaped to resemble an old-time school house with a pointed roof. If the sign has a picture of two children walking but no crosswalk, you are getting close to a school zone. If it shows two children walking inside a crosswalk, there is a school crosswalk ahead. You should slow down and be alert for children and crossing guards.

Illinois school zones also have special speed limit signs to warn drivers of the change in speed limit. These signs are white and rectangular, with a yellow band on top that has the word "school" written across it. The white part of the sign indicates the 20 mph speed limit, and usually has the times the speed limit is in effect written across the bottom. However, some districts have signs with yellow flashing lights attached, and the speed limit sign states that the school zone is in effect "when flashing." In that case, you need to slow down whenever the yellow lights are turned on and flashing.

You may also see a yellow rectangular sign that says "no passing zone." This indicates that there is no passing in a school zone. In addition to the signs, school crosswalks are clearly marked on the pavement, as well. Be alert for the signs that indicate you are entering an Illinois school zone, and you'll never be caught unawares.

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