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Bill would allow radar devices near school zones
Cars drive past a school speed limit sign near West Jackson Primary School on Ga. 53. If passed, a new bill penned by Reps. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, and Terry England, R-Auburn, would allow law enforcement officials to use radar in school zones in unincorporated parts of the county. - photo by Claire Miller

State law meant to protect motorists from speed traps could see an exception in school zones if a local lawmaker’s proposal passes.

State Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, wants to allow law enforcement officers to operate speed detection devices such as radar near schools that are less than 300 feet from a "reduction in speed" sign in city limits or less than 600 feet from a speed reduction sign in the county.

The current law allows those distances to prevent Georgia motorists from getting quick speeding tickets before they’ve had a chance to slow down.

Benton proposed the legislation after hearing from school officials at West Jackson Primary School on Ga. 53 in Hoschton, located on the edge of the city limits.

School principal Denny Turner said the location of his school hinders what police can do to enforce speed limits.

"There are schools in the same situation throughout the state," Turner said. "Our primary concern is the safety of the children."

Benton said under the current law, "you’ve got a gray area. The police are sitting there, but no one’s paying any attention to them, because they’re not able to clock you."

Benton noted that speeders should have plenty of notice to slow it down already.

"You’ve got a sign and you’ve got a flashing light saying ‘school zone,’ so I think it’s fair warning," Benton said.

The exception to the law would only apply on school days, one hour before school opens, all day during school hours and one hour after school lets out.

Gainesville Police Sgt. Dean Staples said his department doesn’t have much of a problem with speeders around the city’s schools, but he agrees with the intent of the proposal, noting that current law largely prevents the use of speed detection devices in school zones.

"I think it would be a good thing, because once you go 300 feet from that (speed reduction) sign, you’re outside the school zone."

Hall County Sheriff’s Col. Jeff Strickland noted that in the county, the flashing "school zone" signs are often only 500 to 1,000 feet from a school, "which allows the motorist to get much closer to the school at a higher rate of speed before we could actually issue a citation," Strickland said.

A change in the law "would allow the officer to enforce the school zones more strictly and provide a safer school zone," Strickland said.

Benton said the proposal, introduced as House Bill 287, is due to be heard in a state judiciary subcommittee hearing today.