In 1950, Phoenix, Arizona was the first city in the country to establish 15 mph zones around schools. While those have been effective in reducing the number of pedestrian/vehicle accidents around some schools, with more than 450 schools in the greater Phoenix area and more than more than 1,700 school-related crosswalks, it simply isn't possible to slow our ever-increasing population down to 15 mph around every school.
Arizona and the cities within the state are constantly analyzing the issues involved in improving safety in an environment of ever-increasing populations and traffic. What's the point? To try to get more kids walking and biking to and from school. Why should we encourage children to walk to and from school? There are three basic reasons:
- Walking and bicycling is healthier
- Less traffic means less congestion around schools
- Less driving reduces pollution from emissions
Helping our young pedestrians stay safe from traffic incidents while getting to and from school is a multi-faceted effort, which some in Phoenix refer to as the "3E"s:
Engineering - crosswalks, signs, sidewalk improvements, bikeways
Education - students and drivers learn about safety, and walking and bicycling are encouraged.
Enforcement - photo radar, police presence
Maricopa County participates in the Safe Routes To Schools program. This program involves parents, children, community members, school staff, traffic engineers, city planners, law enforcement officers, community leaders and many others.
City and state engineers, school administrators, and parents continue to seek the best solutions to pedestrian safety for kids. Drivers in Arizona, and especially in congested areas like metro Phoenix, are likely to experience a variety of speed control measures, including, but not limited to:
- school zones that are 35 mph 24/7
- school zones that are 35 mph during specified hours/days
- school zones that are 35 mph when the lights are flashing
- red-light cameras at selected schools
- 15 mph speed limit signs that are manually placed during school hours (a school crossing guard may be present)
- advisory speed signs that tell you how fast you are driving through the school zone
- wider and more sidewalks
- more obvious painting of crosswalks
- active driver feedback speed signs with a SLOW NOW message
- florescent yellow-green school warning signs
- larger student waiting areas and "Stand-back" lines at crosswalks
- photo speed camera vans to provide mobile enforcement
- pavement stencils placing the word "SCHOOL" on the street
- in-pavement crosswalk flashing lights, known as the Flashing Crosswalk
- staggered crossings that force pedestrians to look toward oncoming traffic
- pedestrian safety islands
It seems that we'll continue to implement whatever mechanisms are at our disposal to get drivers to pay attention and slow down around all pedestrians, especially our children. Maybe walking to school can become the norm again, instead of the exception.
It is common in the greater Phoenix area to come upon 15 mph zones near primary school crosswalks. Sometimes there will be a crossing guard present to remind you to slow down or to stop if there are children in or near the crosswalk.
Arizona's 15 mph zones are zero-tolerance zones. That means that you can (and probably will) get a citation if you are caught going even a few miles over 15 mph. Typically, enforcement is the most aggressive during the end of July through August, when school starts in most parts of the Valley of the Sun. Violating a school zone speed limit can be costly. The fine is over $100 and you'll get points on your license. You may be eligible for defensive driving school.
15 mph School Zone Tips
Here are some things you might not have known about the 15 mph school zones:
- If any person is school zone crosswalk, they must be completely out of the crosswalk before any vehicle can proceed in either direction.
- Passing is not permitted in a 15 mph zone, no matter how slow another vehicle may be traveling. Passing doesn't mean getting around the vehicle. No passing means that your bumper can't pass any other car's bumper going in your same direction.
- There is zero tolerance in a 15 mph zone. It is never reasonable or prudent to go faster in a school zone. You can be cited for going 16 mph in a 15 mph zone.
- Once you have driven entirely past the last school crosswalk, you may resume the normal speed for that street.