Answer Man: How fast can I go in a school speed zone?

News-DemocratOctober 23, 2013 

My neighbors and I were discussing the speed limit signs near schools that read "20 mph when children are present." We were at odds on the meaning, so I ask you: Does that mean you go 20 mph when you see children or 20 mph when school is in session? -- Jeff Hollenkamp (who does 20 mph when school is in session.)

Even after a quarter century as your friendly, neighborhood Answer Man, I still find there are two traffic laws on which many drivers could use more schooling: school speed zones and stopped school buses.

Of course, I have to admit that at one time I would have had to plead guilty over misinterpreting both myself. Before I looked into the matter years ago, you would have caught me putt-putting past schools at 19 mph even when the kids were hard at work larnin' their three R's inside.

I felt rather silly doing it, but I figured there was always a police officer hiding behind the next billboard eager to pull me over if my speedometer crept above 22 or 23.

As it turns out, I was only making smarter drivers behind me tear out their hair. So remember this: You only have to drive 20 mph when you see children in proximity of the roadway.

That was the opinion of former Illinois Attorney General William Scott in a letter to Tazewell County State's Attorney C. Brett Bode on Feb. 25, 1974. Like you, Bode had asked Scott for his official take on whether drivers had to slow during the entire school day or only when children were visible.

In reply, Scott wrote that interpreting the law to mean cutting your speed even when students are in the classroom is "wrong and not tenable."

"The word 'present,' as defined in both law and general dictionaries, means present to sight or to the other senses," he explained. To interpret it otherwise "would not only disregard the plain meaning of the words used in the (law), but also its intention and the object sought to be accomplished."

Therefore, he concluded, the 20-mph rule is in effect only on school days "when children are physically present on such a street or are outside the school building in a school zone. The 20-mile limit is not in effect when the children are inside the school building even though school is in session."

Finally, for the umpteenth time: On a road or street with four or more lanes (e.g., Main Street in Belleville west of 28th), you DO NOT have to stop for a school bus that is loading or unloading students in the oncoming lanes. If you do and hear a gentle toot behind you, that's probably me trying to remind you.

If you'd like to read Scott's entire opinion on the speed-zone issue, go to and scroll down to S-706.

Why do they put those red balls on some power lines spanning rivers and sometimes roads? -- Charlie Pitts

To us on the ground, power lines are usually as obvious against the daytime sky as the nose on our face. We may even be annoyed when they spoil a particularly scenic vista.

But for pilots of helicopters and other aircraft, the lines may be difficult to spot from the air against a changing terrain beneath them. I've seen one article that suggested running into power lines may be the leading cause of helicopter crashes.

Therefore, the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated the use of these "marker balls" or "aviation balls" to help prevent all kinds of birds -- choppers, planes and the feathered variety -- from flying into power lines by making them more visible.

They are most often used when power poles are particularly far apart (across rivers, canyons and ravines), in other open areas, and around hospitals where copters land and smaller airports. They come in several colors (sometimes two or more colors are used to make them more noticeable) and can be as large as 3 feet in diameter. They are often placed by daring workers on helicopters.

They must help. I found the story of a doctor who was killed after crashing into power lines while flying through a mountain canyon. His family sued the power company and won, arguing the company was negligent for not installing those balls.

HEADS UP: If you're looking for a place to unload old computers or expired drugs, the Belleville Kiwanis Club will help you out with an electronics recycling and drug disposal event Saturday in Swansea.

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the group will take anything with a battery or cord off your hands at Rural King, 2801 N. Illinois St. The list includes all computer components, cellphones, radios, household appliances and batteries of any type, including auto and marine. Recycling is free except for computer monitors and TVs, for which a $5-$15 fee will be charged, depending on screen size.

At the same time, the Swansea Police Department will collect any unwanted drugs inside the Swansea Schnucks store.

Today's trivia

What pitcher holds the record for most consecutive World Series victories? How many?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: In 1987, the St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins took the meaning of "home field advantage" to a new level. For the first time in World Series history, the home team won each of the seven games, with the Twins winning 4-2 in Game 7. It also was the first series to be played indoors and it was the only series in which the home team never had to bat in the bottom of the ninth (unlike the 1991 and 2001 series, in which the home team also won all seven games).

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 239-2465.

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