Up to about a year ago (or thereabouts), the school zone laws in Oregon were simple. There were essentially two types of school zones: the ones where the speed limit was 20mph when a yellow light was flashing, and the ones where the speed limit was 20mph when children were present. This was easy enough for drivers, because all you had to know was that if there was no light, you needed to look around for kids. No kids? No 20mph. Easy.
Then they changed the law. Instead of two simple, logical, easy to understand rules, the new law said that drivers had to do whatever the signs said. New signs went up in almost every school zone in the state. Some required you to slow to 20mph at all times, day or night, no exceptions. Others required you to slow down between the hours of 7am and 5pm. Others required you to slow down when children are present. Still others required you to slow down when a light is flashing. Some required you to slow down between 7am and 5pm, but only on school days. And that’s just a small sampling of the myriad variations.
The upshot of all this is that whenever you enter a school zone in Oregon, you have to strain to read the tiny print on the sign that tells you what you’re supposed to do. Depending on what it tells you, you may also have to check your watch and determine whether or not it’s a school day. And hopefully, while doing all of these things, you haven’t run over any children.
There were rumors at one point that the law was going to be changed so that all school zones would be in effect 24 hours a day. That would have been frustrating, but at least it would be consistent. I have no idea whether the law was actually passed, though, because the signs in most of the school zones I drive through still retained their confusing instructions.
Now the law is apparently changing once more. Effective July 1st, school zone speed limits are in effect when there’s a flashing light or, if there’s no light, then between 7am and 5pm on school days. So you still have to glance at your watch and dig out your school calendar, but at least the rules are slightly more consistent.
Still, I wonder if anyone has bothered to study the effectiveness of school zones, and whether frequently-changing laws result in a higher number of accidents. I suspect the number of accidents has probably remained pretty consistent, whereas the number of speeding tickets issued has probably gone up quite a bit.