Drivers approaching a school zone often see signs warning them to reduce their speeds when children are present, but Robert Ridley wanted to know what that lawfully means.

Sgt. Tim Olson of the Edina Police Department refers motorists to Minnesota State Statute 169.14, which says if children are arriving at or leaving school during opening or closing hours, or during recess periods, then children are considered present and the posted lower speed limit must be followed. At all other times, motorists should use caution, but can drive at the designated speed limit for the street.

A school zone is defined as a section of street or highway that abuts the grounds of a school where children have access to the road from the school property. The zone also can include crosswalks near schools that have a high likelihood of young pedestrians present — provided that signs conform to standards in the state’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

School zone speed limits must not be less than 15 miles per hour or more than 30 mph below the regular speed limit for the street or highway.

Tom Minneman asked if school zone signs are in effect if a building is not being used as a school.

He pointed out that school zone signs are still up around Crystal Lake Education Center in Lakeville, a former elementary school that the Lakeville School District now uses for its early childhood programs. There’s also a preschool and child care program in the building at County Road 46 and Ipava Avenue. Since the building technically is not a traditional school, he wondered if motorists would get ticketed if they don’t slow down when children are present, which is frequently the case since the site also features a playground, ball fields and a popular sledding hill.

The answer is yes, according to Capt. Tim Knutson of the Lakeville Police Department. “It is a school district building. There are school district activities in the building, therefore that would still be considered a school zone. The person would be subject to penalties should they get pulled over for that.”

Local authorities can establish a school zone after conducting an engineering and traffic investigation as outlined by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

A traffic investigation includes three components: a school route plan, hazard identification and public education. The school route plan addresses topics such as the placement of designated street crossings. Hazard identification deals with road design, traffic volume, the number of pedestrians, stop signs and signals, fences, parking, and crash history and speeds on surrounding streets. Education involves teaching pedestrians the proper use of sidewalks, crosswalks and general safety within the school zone. It might also include alerting drivers to laws that are in effect within school zones, Olson said.

Olson said that if a school no longer exists at a particular location, the area may no longer meet the criteria needed to establish a school zone. In that case, the local authority, usually the city engineering department, should be notified so a new evaluation can be conducted. If the school is on a trunk highway, MnDOT would be the proper contact.

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