GROVE CITY, Ohio (WCMH) – Central Ohio law enforcement is sending a back-to-school message to drivers. Even though many students are starting the school year remotely, agencies are urging drivers to assume children could be present in school zones.
“It only takes a second [for an accident to happen] and they don’t realize that,” said Bob Payne.
He lives near a school zone in Grove City with his wife and their fifth grade granddaughter. The family noticed unsafe drivers during a normal school year. South-Western City School District started the school year remotely, and Payne said many children who live in the neighborhood still use the nearby school yard to play.
“We have little kids that are five to six-years-old trying to ride bikes in the school parking lot, and they might dart out. If you’re coming down the road at 60 miles per hour, you’re not going to have the chance to slow down,” Payne said.
High school senior Teegan Sells attends Teays Valley High School on a hybrid model. Monday morning he was skateboarding at a Grove City skate park between his online classes.
“It’s partially enjoyable because I have a lot more free time and I can do my work on my own time,” Sells explained.
Addressing questions from drivers, Grove City Police said in a Facebook post to assume children could be present in all school zones.
“Even if schools are not in session, we are encouraging drivers to proceed with caution and not be reckless,” the post said. “Some schools are in hybrid models and some are fully in-person; there will likely be many changes to the school year. For the safety of our children, please assume children are present and follow the reduced speed in these areas.”
Columbus Division of Police relayed a similar message to NBC4. The department said it plans to enforce school zone speed limits by issuing tickets near schools where students are physically attending class. Officers also plan to increase their presence in all school zones as a reminder to drivers, before students return.
“Almost every single district will be back to school at some point this calendar year, so because of that we want to get ahead of the curve and we want to make sure we’re accurately monitoring these areas safely because we don’t want any child to get hurt,” said Sgt. James Fuqua, the public information officer with the Columbus Division of Police.
Sgt. Fuqua explained that reduced speed limits posted in school zones apply during an entire school day, not just in the morning and afternoon drop-off and pick-up hours.
“I want people to be cautious. Just because the light is not necessarily flashing, we can still enforce the speed and safety in these areas because of the way the statute is written,” he said.
Many Central Ohio districts are considering a return to in-person or hybrid learning in the coming weeks. Sgt. Fuqua noted that because learning models are changing rapidly, drivers should prepare accordingly.
“Whether school is in or not, you need to continue to practice those safe driving habits,” he said.
The ticket for speeding in a school zone can cost up to $150, with additional fines and fees for distractions or other violations.