Paco Dominguez uses a radar gun to clock speeding drivers as fellow Speed Watch volunteers (from left) Eleanor McMurrer

Paco Dominguez uses a radar gun to clock speeding drivers as fellow Speed Watch volunteers (from left) Eleanor McMurrer

Volunteers have eyes out for speeders

The start of the school year offers a timely reminder for Chilliwack motorists to slow down and pay attention

It’s time to slow down.

Students are back in school on Tuesday, and that means all school zone rules are back in effect, all school days from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And for those who still forget to drop their speed to 30 km/hr, Speed Watch crews will be on hand with their speed reader boards and radar guns, and they will be taking notes.

The volunteers will be out in the community every school day for the next two weeks, with teams rotating around to different schools in Chilliwack.

Speeding through a school zone won’t just put children’s lives in danger, it could lead to hefty fines. And on a visit to a Speed Watch setup this week, by Chilliwack Mountain, the need for reminders was plainly evident.

Cars regularly sped by the team of volunteers at about 20 kilometers over the posted 50 km/hr limit. One car flew by at shockingly high speeds, clocking in over 90 km/hr. The driver was going almost double the speed limit, despite the clearly marked signs, high visibility vests on the volunteers, and wet roads.

But like all those speeding through the setup, the car’s license plate was recorded and the owner of the vehicle will be getting an RCMP-signed letter in the mail shortly.

To date this year, Speed Watch has sent out 2,445 warning letters to car owners. Those letters are sent through the RCMP detachment as a warning, but tickets can’t be issued, as it’s possible someone other than the registered owner was driving.

Still, the letters serve a purpose.

“I’m sure the letters have led to some interesting dinner table conversations,” says Samantha Piper, a public safety specialist and lead of Safer City Chilliwack. And not all speed violations are met with just a letter.

Speed Watch works with the RCMP to set up “three strike” days, where the RCMP is set up just down the road from the digital read out. Volunteers will radio information about excessive speeders up to the police officer, and tickets can be issued, along with hefty fines.

This year, the letters sent out represent $439,000 in potential fines.

Michelle Wulff, office manager for Chilliwack Crime Prevention Services, says drivers need reminders about the risks of speeding.

“People neglect to slow down,” she says. “We have to remind them on a continual basis.”

There are many groups working together to make the streets safer for everyone, but Speed Watch is probably the most visible. Working through Chilliwack Crime Prevention Services, they are a team of about 24 volunteers who go out to different sites about three times a week. They are deployed to areas of concern, whether it’s a suggestion from Safer City, or from calls from the public.

But next week, their sole focus will be keeping children safe on their way to school and home again.

Just keeping a presence in the community is enough to slow a lot of drivers down.

But for those who insist on breaking the law, speeding in a school zone will cost $196-$253,  plus three points; excessive speeding will cost $368-483 and three points; failing to stop for a school bus will cost $368 and three points; disobeying a school crossing guard can cost $167 plus three points, as can failing to yield to a pedestrian.

And for those unclear on school buses, drivers going both directions must stop when the red lights are flashing. It isn’t safe to go again until the bus is moving again, or the lights stop flashing and the stop sign is pulled in.

Four of Chilliwack’s school buses are equipped with side mount cameras.  The camera systems are active as long as the ignition is turned on, staff says, and when a driver has any kind of incident on the bus or a vehicle running the lights they press a button that marks that point in the video for future reference.  The units contain an SD card which is removed and the video is downloaded for viewing.

Last year, Safer City was behind the upgraded school zone signage. Now, all school zones are marked with high visibility yellow strips along the pole. It’s nearly impossible to miss them. Piper says the city’s park zones will be the next to get enhanced signage.

She urges drivers to take the most utmost care driving through school zones, especially as younger students get used to their walking routes.

“Be familiar with the roads, and watch for instructions from the crossing guards,” she says. “They’re there protecting kids’ lives.”