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School zone traffic rules and penalties (fines and demerit points)

40kph variable speed limits are becoming more common around schools since they were first introduced in 2000. Busy roads that run past schools are considered dangerous for children who are easily distracted. A vehicle travelling at 40kph produces significantly less injuries than a vehicle travelling at 50kph if it hits a child.

What times are 40kph limits in force?

Before a 40kph is installed, local authorities may use other means to control traffic speeds such as:

But on busy arterial roads, these are not practical and therefore a 40kph variable speed limit can be enacted, with it only being in force during times when children will be going to or leaving school.

school zone 40 sign variable

Permanent school zone sign

Permanent school zone sign

The times are:

  • 35 minutes before school starts until school starts, e.g. 8:25am to 9am where school starts at 9am.
  • 20 minutes at the end of school, starting up to 5 minutes before the end of school, e.g. 3:10 to 3:30 where school ends at 3:15
  • 10 minutes at any other time of the day where children cross the road or enter or leave vehicles at the roadside.

The signs can be manually activated, but usually operate automatically during school terms, i.e. they don’t display when there is a public holiday or when children are not at school.

Variable limits are used because it promotes better compliance among drivers; when limits are set permanently but with no obvious danger, drivers tend to ignore them. The signs remind drivers to be extra vigilant that children could be crossing the road.

Fines and demerit points in school zones

Fail to comply with school patrol sign: 20 demerit points

Passing at school crossing point or pedestrian crossing: 20 demerit points

Speeding fines and demerit points will be related to your speed over the temporary limit. E.g. If you are travelling at 51kph in a zone that is usually 50, but there is a variable 40kph limit in place, then you could receive 20 demerit points and an $80 fine. If you are travelling at 51kph passing a school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children, then you will be travelling 31kph over the limit, which is a $300 fine and 40 demerit points.

school bus rear

What are the characteristics of a variable 40kph limit in a school zone?

School zone speed limit sign

When the zone is not activated the lights don’t display and the sign looks black as not to confuse drivers

  • Between 300-500m long, unless it’s in a no-exit road
  • Signs must meet Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004 signage standards
  • If the signs are on a multi-lane road, the speed limit is 70kph or more, or the road is more than 15m wide the signs must be on both sides of the road
  • The signs have flashing white or amber lights to warn of their operation
  • At the end of the zone there must be one or more signs to let drivers know it’s ended.

NZTA’s guidelines for the implementation of a 40kph zone

A road controlling authority may set a 40km/h variable speed limit in a school zone under the following conditions:

(a) there is school-related pedestrian or cycle activity on the road outside the school, which exceeds approximately 50 children crossing the road or entering or leaving vehicles at the roadside, and the traffic on the road outside the school meets at least one of the following conditions:

(i) the mean speed of free-running vehicles is greater than 45km/h (measured when the 40km/h variable speed limit is not operating), or

(ii)the 85th percentile speed of free-running vehicles is greater than 50km/h (measured when the 40km/h variable speed limit is not operating), or

(iii) there have been pedestrian, cycle or speed-related crashes near the school in the previous five years, or

(iv) the school-related activity occurs on a main traffic route, or

(b) there is school-related pedestrian or cycle activity on the road outside the school, with children crossing the road or entering or leaving vehicles at the roadside, and safe and appropriate traffic engineering measures are installed so that the mean operating speed of free-running vehicles on the road outside the school does not exceed 40km/h when the 40km/h variable speed limit is operating.

Trials found that the limits work best on arterial routes and multi-lane roads in high speed environments where the presence of the school is not immediately obvious to approaching traffic (e.g. it’s behind a tall hedge).

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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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