The way that school zones operate in NSW is a sick joke and a travesty. The NSW Government, in collusion with the RTA, has put in place a system that makes it impossible for the normal motorist to properly comply with school zone speed limits. Not only that, these zones are mostly devoid of students when they are active, yet they force motorists to crawl along at 40 kph for no good reason.
For instance, here is a video compilation of no less than five school zones that was taken on my car black box recorder. The date, time and the GPS-logged speed of my car can clearly be seen in the top left corner. The video shows that my car entered the first school zone on Old Northern Road at Dural at 2:34pm on Friday 27 June 2014. I then proceeded to drive through another two school zones on the same road in Castle Hill. On my return trip, I drove back through two school zones in the opposite direction. I edited out the time I was stopped at traffic lights. The video clip shows the end time at nearly 3:30pm.
Throughout my trip through those five school zones on an official school day, I did not see one single student and the video compilation proves this beyond a shadow of doubt. However, the result of these school zones being active caused hundreds, or even thousands of cars travelling in both directions on Old Northern Road Dural and Castle Hill to slow down to 40 kph for absolutely no valid reason. This is why school zones need to be abolished, because most of the time, they waste people's time in them having to drive much slower when nobody is in danger.
On top of that, I cannot see how a kid run over by a car going at 40 kph is going to be any less dead than a kid run over by a car going at 60 kph. Back in the good old days before school zones were imposed, kids would look after themselves and were taught to watch out for cars before crossing a road. Kids that stupidly ran out onto roads into the path of cars were always held responsible for their carelessness. But now we have the Nanny State, which inflicts more and more restrictions on drivers in every way, while finding more and more ways to rip money from them, such as from fines in school zones.
This video also shows how important it is to have a GPS-enabled car black box recorder. Imagine if I had been booked by a cop for speeding through one of those school zones. Without that time and date-stamped video record of my trip, along with the speed I was driving at, I would have had absolutely no way of proving that I was not speeding. For instance, in NSW, the fine for driving 53 kph in a school zone in 2014 is $319 and the loss of 4 demerit points.
Understanding that cops are acting as government tax collectors and their speed measuring devices have been proven time and time again to be defective, motorists can easily be booked. The same goes for speed cameras, such as the one in the school zone in Castle Hill. The NSW government's own figures show that around 14% of speed cameras are defective at any one time. Without that car black box recorder to prove that the speed limit was adhered to, motorists don't stand a chance fighting bookings in school zones.
The legal requirement is that motorists must obey the school zone speed limit, but nowhere does it state WHEN that speed limit is in force. These signs certainly give times, but they do not indicate exactly what days happen to be school days and this places a requirement on motorists that they cannot possibly meet at the time of seeing those signs.
When a motorist drives away from home to go to work or anywhere else, he is confronted by a myriad of traffic control signs. He will see speed limit signs, clearway signs, parking restriction signs, no turn signs and many other signs that he has to obey.
These signs all have one thing in common - they specify either by omission or by specific instructions, the times when the signs must be obeyed. For instance, a No Left Turn sign with no dates and times on it signifies that the motorist cannot turn left at any time. However, if that No Left Turn sign stated 6:00 AM - 10:00 AM, then the motorist would know that he could indeed turn left outside those indicated times. If that sign also stated MON - FRI, then the motorist would know that he could turn left on Saturdays and Sundays, but not at the specified times on weekdays. There is no ambiguity there with such signs and motorists know exactly what their obligations are. However, there is one traffic sign that does not give sufficient information for motorists to comply with it - the school zone sign.
A motorist approaching a school zone sign has about 5 seconds at the most to determine whether the speed restriction is in force. It is reasonable to expect that a motorist these days would know what time of day it was at that moment, however interestingly enough, there is absolutely no requirement in the Road Users Handbook that motorists must carry and refer to a timepiece.
Therefore if one wished to be pedantic, it would be reasonable to demand that the RTA clearly indicate the time of day on all signs with time restrictions so that motorists without timepieces could comply with those restrictions by being given the correct time of day.
However, the average motorist, when approaching a school zone sign, is not provided with the most basic, necessary and most required piece of information to allow him to comply with the speed restriction of 40 kph.
The school zone sign demands that on approaching that sign, within a few seconds, not only must the motorist determine the exact time of day, which necessitates him looking either at the clock in the car or his wristwatch (a somewhat dangerous practice that involves taking his eyes off the road for a second or two), but somehow the motorist has to determine, with no other information provided at the time, whether it is a school day or not.
So how does the average motorist find out that a particular day is a school day? There is only one legal way, but there is a problem with this for a motorist who is driving at the time.
None of the above methods are satisfactory or even practical and in fact would be useless as a defence in fighting a booking in a school zone.
In NSW, school days are determined my proclamation of the NSW Government and are published in the Government Gazette and are described as "Gazetted School Days" and they change every year.
So according to the law and to be able to comply with those school zone signs at any time that they are in force, motorists must somehow get hold of the particular issue of the Government Gazette every year, see which days have been proclaimed by the NSW Government as being school days and then remember them on every day that they drive for that entire year.
Not only is this a completely ridiculous and onerous requirement, but in logical terms, no motorist could comply with this and I do not believe that there is a motorist in this entire state that would do this anyway. Firstly, the Government Gazette is not found at newsagents. The NSW Government Commerce website states:
How many average motorists subscribe to the NSW Government Gazette, so that they can obtain information about gazetted school days? I would be confident in stating that I've never met anybody who subscribes to the Government Gazette at all, let alone just to ascertain the gazetted school days. In fact, I performed an on-line survey in 2009 to find this out and the results showed that not one person polled had a clue about where to get information about gazetted school days and virtually all those people didn't even know of the existence of the NSW Government Gazette.
Of course this information is also available on the Internet - if the average motorist had access to the Internet and this is NOT a requirement listed in the Road Users Handbook, therefore such motorists would have to rely on obtaining a printed copy of the NSW Government Gazette by subscription - IF THEY KNEW ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.
And would the average motorist get on the Internet and do a search for this information on a daily or weekly basis, or even once a year? No way. The average motorist would not even think about this, when driving off from home every day.
In other words, the average motorist is expected to somehow divine, with no available information at the time of driving, that a school zone is active because it happens to be a gazetted school day.
All other traffic signs are fairly unambiguous and give motorists all required information of restrictions at the time of approaching them. Can you imagine the chaos and the litany of complaints if those traffic signs operated the same as the school zone sign? Imagine approaching a sign that stated:
Such a sign would be meaningless to motorists and completely stupid. BUT - this is exactly what the NSW Government has done with school zone signs. Because of Government stupidity and the idiocy of the people who contrived these school zone signs in their present form, average motorists have no hope of complying with them. The stupidity lies in the fact that there is not enough adequate information on those signs to give motorists the slightest ability to comply with them at the time of approaching them.
Some people might suggest that if a motorist is not sure whether a school zone is active or not, he should slow down to 40 kph anyway, just in case. This sounds reasonable on the face of it, but it is no solution.
On 09 November 2009, I spent around two hours ringing the RTA and the NSW Police to determine if there was actually an offence of impeding the flow of traffic. Nobody to whom I spoke had any idea if it was against the law to do this and there was no demerit point listing for anything resembling an offence of impeding the flow of traffic.
So in other words, a bunch of motorists who wanted to drive at 40 kph on a 80hph road would be legally entitled to do so, possibly inconveniencing many thousands of other motorists. This situation has been seen in Sydney with that bicycle action group that rides in the Sydney CBD and across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, impeding the flow of traffic severely.
However, there is no good reason for a motorist slowing down to 40 kph simply because he is not sure whether a school zone speed limit is in force, because that motorist has not been given adequate information on the sign. It inconveniences that motorists and impinges on his right to drive at the posted speed limit.
This kind of social engineering that the NSW Government and RTA expects by their negligence in not providing adequate information on school zone signs is not good enough. Either a motorist drives at the posted speed limit or he slows to 40 kph at a school zone - provided that he is informed when seeing that sign, that the school zone is indeed active.
I have devised a very simple and cost-effective remedy for this problem
My proposed school zone sign indicates that the zone is active every Monday to Friday. There is no ambiguity here whatsoever and no motorist could complain that he did not have adequate information about the activation days of the school zone.
When a school is not operating, this sign can merely be covered up by the RTA, just as the RTA covers up many road signs when they are deactivated or when road works are being performed.
Every school could be authorised to cover up the school zone sign on the last day of each school term and remove the cover when school recommences the following term. This means that the school zones at private schools that run different terms from those of government schools would be deactivated on the right dates, instead of their school zones being in force even when those school are closed.
So motorists would know that whenever they saw that school zone sign between Mondays and Fridays, they had to slow down to 40 kph - without exception, without clairvoyance or guesswork, just by observation.
This remedy would:
I suggest that all motorists in NSW who agree with the sentiments expressed here, should contact their state Member of Parliament and demand that the law governing school zones be changed. Indeed, a class action in the High Court to overturn the stupid law that requires motorists to be clairvoyants when approaching school zones should be initiated.