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Watch your school zone speed

Dressed in a bright orange and yellow vest, her back to traffic and crossing flag extended, Bev Duncan trusts drivers will stop and allow students to cross 1st Avenue South near Panther Lake Elementary School.

Duncan is a crossing guard at the school, located at 34424 1st Ave. S. Every day, she stands in the busy roadway with her crossing gear in hand. Each day she also witnesses drivers speeding through Panther Lake Elementary’s school zone. Drivers are failing to abide by laws applicable in school crossing zones.

“People are just not slowing down,” Federal Way police Traffic Lieutenant Connie Shupp said.

New efforts, in the form of increased fines for speeding in school zones, were put into effect by the state Legislature July 22. Drivers disobeying posted school zone speed limits now face hefty tickets.

Prior to July 22, speeding in a school zone resulted in a ticket for a flat fee of $177. Exceeding the speed limit now still ends with a fine, but the amount of money one can expect to pay for the infraction depends on how fast one’s vehicle was traveling through the school zone.

A minimum ticket fee of $189 will be issued to anyone caught traveling 5 mph over the speed limit. That price propels forward up to $784 for traveling 36 mph or more over the speed limit in a school zone.

Federal Way police hope the increased fines will result in decreased speeding through school zones, Shupp said. Five officers currently patrol the zones, especially at elementary and middle schools, in the minutes before and after school begins and commences, she said.

In Federal Way, these areas are only active school zones in the alloted minutes, generally a 25-minute time span before and after school hours, Shupp said. On busy corridors, such as 1st Avenue South, 21st Avenue Southwest and Southwest Campus Drive, speeders abound, Shupp said. At times, drivers travel through active school zones at speeds surpassing the posted speed limit by 40 mph, she said.

“We can easily go into a (school) zone and write six tickets within 25 minutes,” Shupp said.

School zones are marked and many drivers know they are passing near a school, but many still refuse to slow down, Shupp said. At some schools, such as Saghalie Middle School, 33914 19th Ave. S.W., posted school zone signs and flashing orange lights above crosswalks alert drivers that the area is a school zone. Other school zones do not feature the crosswalk lights, but are marked with school zone speed limit signs.

To say speeding is a problem near Panther Lake Elementary is an understatement, principal Rudy Baca said. Posted school zone speed limit signs, complete with a flashing orange light, warn drivers that the school zone is active.

The school’s budget also includes compensation for its two crosswalk guards, Baca said. Students without guardian supervision are encouraged to cross the street where a crossing guard is stationed. Baca stays in close contact with the community,

city and police to keep everyone informed of the speeders, he said. The police have a consistent presence near Panther Lake Elementary, he said. Speeding drivers sometimes pull over in the school’s parking lot to receive their ticket, Baca said.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “It’s hectic.”

Duncan has been a crossing guard at Panther Lake Elementary for three years. Because of decreased parent volunteers and limited staffing, she performs

crossing guard duties by herself each afternoon. With her “stop” flag extended, she stands in the middle of the street until the children have reached the other side. While waiting for more students to arrive at the crosswalk, she motions with a downward sweep for speeding drivers to slow down.

Many drivers pass through the 20 mph zone at 45 mph, she said. She sees several other drivers talking on their cell phones, she said. At first the traffic was intimidating, but now she is used to it. If she gets struck by a vehicle, at least she knows she protected the students.

“We’ll take the bullet for them,” Duncan said.

Drivers do not always appreciate her efforts to get the students across the street safely, she said. Duncan endures shouting and being flipped off on occasion, she said. She lets the comments and actions slide by her, though, and maintains a smile and a positive attitude, remembering she is there to get the students on their way home safely.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

Expect to pay the price for speeding in school zones:

Miles per hour exceeding the speed limit: Ticket cost:

1-5 $189

6-10 $210

11-15 $271

16-20 $353

21-25 $456

26-30 $558

31-35 $661

36 or more $784

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