What ‘when children are present’ means in a school zone

Many school zone signs note that the school zone is in effect “when children are present.”

But what does that mean?

It may seem like splitting hairs. But with police departments offering different rules for when school zones are in force, it’s worth a closer look.

The Washington Administrative Code spells it out — and the classroom and playground are not in there.

When a sign uses the “when children are present” language, the 20 mph speed limit is in force when children are in marked crosswalks, waiting at the curb or shoulder to cross the road, or are walking along the roadway on the sidewalk or shoulder.

This has been tested locally.

“The Marysville Municipal Court Judges have interpreted ‘present’ to mean on the sidewalk or in a crosswalk located in a school zone,” said Marysville Police Commander Robb Lamoureux. “The school zone speed does not apply to kids being on the playground behind a chain link fence.”

The presence of children often is just one condition of a school zone being in force, however.

If a beacon is flashing — or if it’s within a stated time period for the school zone — drivers still should slow down, even if children are cleared from the roadway.

For its part, the state is moving away from the “when children are present” verbiage.

The Washington State Department of Transportation handles school zone signage on state highways for cities with populations less than 25,000 and in unincorporated areas.

“WSDOT no longer uses the message ‘When Children Are Present’ primarily due to the confusion on when it is enforceable,” said Tom Pearce, a spokesman.

Past advice from Lamoureux — and other police departments we checked in with — urges drivers to slow down near schools, period.

“Our department enforces school zones during normal school hours,” Officer Aaron Snell said. But that’s not the only time for concern, he added.

“Even if lights don’t flash or school is not in session, drivers should be aware that children may be around the school and should slow for safety reasons.”

Lynnwood, which uses photo enforcement for some of its school zones, echoes the sentiment and urges drivers to slow down near schools at all times.

The “when children are present” is meant to capture those unpredictable times when students will be around, such as evening sports games or after-school activities, said Lisa Wellington, a crime prevention specialist for the Lynnwood Police Department. Darker months that make visibility harder are just another reason to go slow.

It really doesn’t take that long, she added.

“It will take the driver an extra 14 to 22 seconds of drive time to pass through” a school zone at the reduced speed, Wellington said. “Please take those few seconds to relax, be mindful of your surroundings and think of the children in your community and children everywhere.”

Have a question? Email us at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence. Look for updates on the Street Smarts blog.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Construction continues at the site of the Lake Stevens Costco now slated to open Dec. 2. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)
Lake Stevens’ new Costco opening delayed till after Thanksgiving

The new warehouse opening was pushed back to Dec. 2. Meanwhile, it’s still under construction.

Pedestrian hit, hospitalized after crash on Highway 99 in Edmonds

The person was crossing the highway near 238th Street SW. The driver stayed and cooperated with officers, per Edmonds PD.

Cars drive along 76th Avenue West in front of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds eyes speed cameras near three schools

Roads near Edmonds-Woodway High, Chase Lake Elementary and Westgate Elementary could get automated enforcement.

Shoppers walk in and out of Macy’s at Alderwood Mall were Black Friday deals are being advertised on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Go ahead, hit snooze: Most Black Friday deals are online

Braving the stores on Black Friday is still a thing, but more retailers are closed on Thanksgiving.

Beating the heat in their lawn chairs at Lake Roesiger County Park in July 2018, when a hot streak began, were Sonny Taulbee (left) his wife, Carissa and daughter, Ashlyn, 14.  (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Lake Roesiger property owners to pay fee to clean invasive plants

Snohomish County Council voted 4-1 on a new service charge, dividing the cost among 463 shoreline properties.

Bird scooters lined up along the intersection of Colby Avenue and Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Bird scooters removed from Everett bridge overhang

A prankster, or pranksters, lugged the electrified rides to an area not meant for the public on the Grand Avenue Park Bridge.

Luke Sayler and Claire Murphy stress out while watching the World Cup at the Irishmen Pub as the U.S. nearly gives up a last-minute goal during their 0-0 draw with England on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett fans cheer U.S. in tight World Cup match against England

Fans gathered at the Irishmen pub to watch the U.S. take on England in a World Cup match. The game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Vehicles are parked in front boutique-style businesses on the brick road portion of 270th Street on Friday, July 22, 2022, in Historic West Downtown in Stanwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Stanwood voters embrace sales tax to pay for street work

Nearly two-thirds of voters backed a measure to keep the two-tenths of a percent sales tax for maintaining streets, sidewalks and more.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
On site once planned for city hall, Lake Stevens OK’s commercial rezone

The city hopes the Chapel Hill property will be developed to will bring jobs. Locals say they’d be better served with a public park.

Most Read