JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — When school gets underway, buses will hit the roads and lights will flash in school zones. That means drivers will need to pay extra attention during morning and afternoon commutes.
Typically, school zones come with slower speed limits; in many cases across the region, it’s 15 to 25 miles per hour.
“Most of the schools are a 15 mph speed limit; however, we do have a few schools that have a 25 mph speed limit,” said JCPD SRO Kenny Willis.
In Bristol, Virginia, drivers could get a $250 dollar fine if they’re caught speeding in a school zone.
“When the lights are flashing, it’s a strict rule that you do 25 MPH regardless of what the speed limit is,” said SRO Jeanette Loudy. “If you are found travelling faster than the posted speed limit during when the lights are flashing then instead of rather just getting a speeding ticket, there is an enhanced penalty of $250 fine.”
Even if there is not a reduced speed limit, officers recommend slowing down and keeping a close eye out for vehicles stopping or kids crossing the street.
“Well, the same laws and rules and ordinances that we are expected to obey every day obviously apply to back to school time as well, but it’s even more important that we have children involved that we may not have the rest of the year,” said Tom Patton with the Kingsport Police Department. “When kids go back to school, they’re young, they’re unpredictable, they may not always know all the rules. They certainly don’t have the focus to pay attention to the rules and obey them all the time.”
Officers said drivers should also be cautious when driving through school zones when the lights are not flashing because after school activities keep kids on campus until the early evening.
Officers ask that those picking up or dropping off children do not stop in the middle of the road.
“Follow the traffic rules, pull over to a parking space even if you don’t plan on staying, let your child out there, and have them watch for traffic coming both ways,” said Loudy.
Whether driving in Tennessee or Virginia, holding a cellphone behind the wheel is illegal.
“Basically, Tennessee’s law says while driving, you cannot have the cellphone in your hand, it either needs to be on speakerphone or utilizing the earpiece with the phone while you’re driving,” Willis said. “As far as repercussions, it can be up to a $200 fine and possibly a mandatory appearance in front of a sessions court judge.”
Loudy said in Virginia, there are no exceptions to distracted driving laws.
“In the Commonwealth of Virginia, you cannot have access to your cell phone period,” Loudy said. “You cannot hold to change music; you cannot have it in your hand whatsoever. The same penalty will apply whether in the school zone or just travelling on the highway — you cannot be on the cell phone period unless you pull over to the side of the road.”
And school buses throughout the region come with their own rules. If the lights are flashing and the stop sign is extended, drivers in both directions must stop.
“Anytime the school bus is stopped — the arms extended with the stop sign, the lights are flashing — that typically means the bus is loading or unloading kids, and at that time people have to stop in both directions unless the road is physically divided by a grass median or raised concrete barrier,” said Patton.
Officers also recommend drivers take time now — before school is in session — to make mental notes of school zones on their normal commutes. They also remind drivers that they should always yield to pedestrians.