Despite What State Rep Says, School Zone Bill Is About Safety, Not Money

A parent crossing guard helps students cross the street. Photo by Christa McCauliffe.

Last Friday the Illinois House overwhelmingly passed a bill lowering the speed limit in school zones to 20 MPH any time children are present, not just during the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., as is currently the case. The Active Transportation Alliance proposed the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Northbrook, after a Chicago Tribune analysis found that the majority of crashes involving kids in Chicago school zones occur after regular school hours. A separate Active Trans study found similar results in other parts of the state.

“This is about children’s safety,” Nekritz said in a recent Trib article. “And in this instance, we’re not just reacting to an incident of a hunch that this might protect children more. We actually have data to show that the most number of accidents occur outside of school hours and outside of the hours by which current state law requires drivers to slow down.”

27th District Representative Monique Davis.

“Schools are special places that warrant drivers’ caution, slower speeds, and alertness whenever children are present,” said Max Muller, Active Trans’ director of government relations and advocacy. “You shouldn’t have to check your watch or calendar before slowing down when children are present near a school. This is a common-sense bill that had broad support from both urban and rural legislators from across the state.”

The legislation, which would fine drivers for speeding when a child is within 50 feet of the road — $150 for the first offense and $300 for the second — was approved 90 – 11. It now moves on to the Illinois Senate, where it is expected to pass, since President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is a longtime advocate for safer streets. One of the few House lawmakers to vote against the legislation was Rep. Monique Davis, whose 27th district includes parts of Chicago’s Southwest Side and south suburbs.

“I know that this is a well-intentioned bill, but in the district I represent, there are schools everywhere you turn,” Davis told the Trib. “It sounds like somebody just wants to make money off of people who are working in Chicago,” she added. Instead, “what we should do is teach our children how to cross the street.”

“We do teach kids how to cross the street,” Muller said yesterday, adding that most kids are taught traffic safety at a young age, and educational efforts continue in school through programs like Chicago’s Safe Routes Ambassadors. “But we can’t really control children’s behavior. Kids are not little adults – they’re more impulsive. However, we can slow down cars, which makes crashes less likely and less severe.” Studies show that a person struck by a car at 40 MPH will almost certainly die, while a person struck at 20 MPH will almost certainly live.

When I reached Representative Davis, she conceded that it makes sense to try to prevent drivers from going over 20 MPH in school zones. “If a driver is speeding near a school then they’re certainly driving dangerously,” she said. “But I get really tired of trying to solve problems by fining people.”

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The 27th District (dark blue).

“I don’t want anybody getting injured, nor do I want another instance in which Traffic Court is filled with black people,” she added. The 27th District is majority African-American. “I think this bill targets Chicagoans and it targets black people.” She argued that urban school buildings are more likely to be located close to the street than their suburban and rural counterparts, and Chicago children are more likely to walk to school than to be bused, so it’s more likely kids will be within 50 feet of the roadway.

Of course, by that logic, Chicago children are more likely to be protected by the bill. The Tribune study also found that crashes involving school-age children disproportionately take place in low-income communities of color on the city’s South and West sides. So what’s the downside of having legislation that would force drivers to slow down for schoolkids in Davis’ district? “The downside is charging people $150 or $300 if they don’t have jobs in this economy,” she said.

One can sympathize with Davis’ constituents who are having money problems. On the other hand, it’s easy to avoid these fines by acting responsibly and hitting the brakes in school zones. The overwhelming support for this legislation from state reps across Illinois, including districts with similar demographics as Davis’, shows that the bill isn’t about targeting a particular group and it’s not a money grab. It’s about protecting kids from getting injured and killed by cars.

  • V Remark

    The signs as they stand are confusing: “on school days when children are present.” I know I’ve wondered if was speeding on a school holiday or not or if it was late enough for school to be let out or not… This legislation, at the very least, will take away the confusion.

    Davis seems like she’d use the money argument for everything. She needs to realize this legislation will be saving black children. Isn’t that more important than worrying about fining black adults? Hopefully this bill will pass the Senate. This bill, along with the speed cameras near parks and schools, are major wins for Chicago’s children.

  • It really, really irks me when politicians reject safety measures by riling the public up with comments like “they just want to take more of your money.” Anyone want to propose an alternative to a fine as punishment? Should we build speed bumps a meter apart on roads near schools? If you follow the rules (e.g. the speed limit), you won’t get fined.

  • A hilarious idea. We could get the same effect by making the travel lane 8 feet wide. Since your car is only 6 feet wide, you can easily drive through here, but at like 10 MPH.

  • I still think there should be speed bumps before intersections (stop signs) and mid-block crosswalks.
    I am strongly in favor of narrower travel lanes. Sometimes it can’t happen because of buses, is what I’m told. I know at least a few schools on busy streets (Montrose, Broadway, etc) with bus routes.

  • Motorists speed between humps. We can also do neckdowns (bumpouts, curb extensions) which are compatible with bus stops (the bus doesn’t have to leave the travel lane and then merge back in).

    I want to speed tables and more raised crosswalks in Chicago (the only ones I know of are on Lincoln Avenue between Lawrence and Leland).

  • Right… There isn’t a speed hump on my block, but the next block over there is. It slows drivers down but they still speed up into the crosswalk. I like curb extensions for bus stops. Drivers certainly oppose them, though, as it blocks traffic behind the bus (oh well).

  • Guest

    Some people never miss an opportunity to insert a discussion about race where it clearly doesn’t belong.

  • Jane Healy

    As a school board member where all of our schools are embedded in neighborhoods, a parent of three school age children, and a resident of Ms. Davis district, I will be making an impassioned phone call tomorrow. I encourage other constituents to do the same. Her Springfield # is 212-782-0010. Her Chicago office # is 773-445-9700. Identify yourself as a resident of her district and make it clear that this bill is about child safety NOT money making.

  • CL

    Nothing that anybody says can prove the true motivation behind this legislation. The bill might improve safety, and it will definitely bring in money. We don’t know which consequence motivated legislators (it’s not like they’d admit if the real motivation were money), but in a way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what we think of the content of the bill.

    I think the fines are too high, especially considering how easy it will be to accidentally violate the law when it’s outside of school hours. I’m not sure I would remember that spotting a random child means a school zone speed limit is suddenly in effect. $150 and $300 is a lot of money to her constituents, and she doesn’t want people to suddenly owe that money when they weren’t even being reckless. I think she has a point. If it’s not about money, maybe the fines should be lower. I think a $50 or a $100 ticket would still ruin most people’s days.

  • That is the case here, in my opinion. Of course, that isn’t true when laws are selectively enforced. For example, statistics showed that the vast number of arrests for marijuana possession in Chicago were happening in low-income, African-American and Latino communities despite pot use being common in all kinds of neighborhoods. That was one of the major arguments for the recent decriminalization here.

  • Anonymous

    Monique Davis has made a long career out of race baiting. This is just more of her bullshit.

  • Since Active Trans originally proposed the bill, and I doubt they’d be getting kickbacks from fines, it’s safe to say the legislation is motivated by concerns about safety, not revenue.

  • CL

    I believe Active Trans wasn’t motivated by money, but I imagine support among the legislators is partly motivated by money — especially because we are badly in need of new revenue sources.

  • Someone with a brain

    This bill is very problematic as it violates the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The MUTCD got rid of signs stating “when X are present” in favor of specific time frames. This was done because a bright-line test such as a time frame is easier for drivers to understand. Also because some courts have found “when X are present” to be vague and therefore in violation of due process.

  • Active Trans’ Muller said his organization would have preferred to remove the “when children are present” language. But after talking to IDOT, the sheriff’s association, etc., they decided to leave the language in because it would make it easier to get the bill passed. One big reason is that if the language on the signs had to be changed, that would create a new expense for municipalities, so their reps might be more likely to oppose the bill.

  • I don’t see why it can’t be a speed limit 24/7 — just on the area, because kids are likely to be present there a lot. Except that some motorists get extremely pissy if forced to drive below 40mph at any time at all ever — I say this as an occasional driver who has gotten SO HONKED AT when driving the speed limit on a fairly empty street at night. Yes, so there’s pavement in front of me — I’m going 35, it’s the limit, doofus! That means “do not drive faster than that” ….

  • I lived on the 4800 block of Ferdinand for 7 years. There were two speed bumps in the block. And yet, regularly (many, many times every day) I saw cars eaaaase over the first bump, get up to 40mph, and brake suddenly down to eaaaase over the second bump. Way to blow your gas mileage there, dude!

    Even cops did it. Of course, cops also sped the wrong way down our one-way street, in one memorable case breaking the wing rear-view mirror off my car, so.

  • Someone with a brain

    This doesn’t make sense. The signs need to be changed anyway because of the change removing the specific time-frame (7am-4pm). This bill, in seeking to “reduce costs” is mandating a cost measure to do exactly what the MUTCD is prohibiting (having vague time standards). Does anyone else realize how ridiculous this is?

  • The signs don’t currently mention the time, even though you can’t get ticketed before 7 a.m. or after 4 p.m. They simply read, “School speed limit 20 on school days when children are present.” I believe the bill only applies on weekdays, although I’m double-checking that. Assuming that’s the case, the signs won’t need to be changed.

  • OK, Max Muller just informed me that the new bill actually applies 24/7. Apparently there’s a lot of inconsistency with current signage – some signs don’t mention “school days” or time of day; others mention school days and/or time. “Any sign that mentions the days or the times will need to be updated,” Muller says. At IDOT’s request, the bill has been amended to give municipalities a two-year window to update signs, since some towns have a long budgeting cycle, even for small expenses like signs.

  • No more speed bumps, please. Not bike friendly. Narrower travel lanes, bumpouts, curb extensions, and more bike lanes – yes.

  • If the fine isn’t punitive, there’s no real incentive to slow down.

  • Brian

    This is 100% about revenue generation for speed cameras in Chicago. How can people be so gullable and actually think this has anything to do with safety. I’m sure Gable Klein reached out to Nukritz and asked her to sponsor the bill, of course, making it look like the city of Chicago had nothing to do with it.

    Hopefully the Tribune will follow up with an investigation to show who’s really behind it.

  • Like I said, Active Trans first proposed this, and I’m pretty confident they’re not getting a payoff. On the other hand, if the city (and, of course, this is a statewide bill) gets some revenue from drivers who endanger schoolchildren, that strikes me as a win-win. A $150 or $300 fine will encourage them to watch their speed in school zones next time.

    But sure, I invite John Kass to do some investigative reporting on this. He could call it the “Saving Kids’ Lives for Bribes” scandal.

  • CL

    I’d have less of a problem with it if they just made it a 24/7 speed limit. It’s a lot easier to follow and remember.

  • This is called Kangarooing. Well, that’s what I call it and it’s slowly picking up.

  • I’d say it depends on where the money from the fines ends up. Is it going to the general piggy bank of the city? Is it going to improve crosswalk safety? I’d prefer a 20 MPH speed limit on all neighborhood streets enforced all the time. And ideally, all the money from fines would go to safety programs at schools…including drivers ed programs, biking safely, etc.


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