BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                  AB 539
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          Date of Hearing:   April 4, 2011

                               Bonnie Lowenthal, Chair
                AB 539 (Williams) - As Introduced:  February 16, 2011
          SUBJECT  :  Vehicles: speeding: school zones: penalties.  

           SUMMARY  :  Increases fines and penalties for speed limit 
          violations in school zones.  Specifically,  this bill  :  

          1)Provides for a base fine of $150 for any person who violates 
            the speed limit in a school zone by 1-15 miles per hour (mph). 

          2)Provides for a base fine of $200 for any person who violates 
            the speed limit in a school zone by 16-25 mph.  

          3)Provides for a base fine of $250 for any person who violates 
            the speed limit in a school zone by 26 mph or more.  

          4)Provides that an additional $100 penalty would be added to the 
            base fine for persons convicted of a second school zone 
            speeding violation if the violation occurs within three years 
            of the first violation.  

          5)Requires the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend the 
            driver's license for a period of six months for any person 
            convicted of a third or subsequent violation of speeding in a 
            school zone within three years of two or more separate 

          6)Provides that a person who is fined for speeding in school 
            zones shall receive one violation point on his or her driving 

          7)Specifies that a court shall not reduce penalties for school 
            zone speeding violations, as described.  

           EXISTING LAW:   

          1)Sets forth provisions governing speed limits and includes 
            fines for speeding violations.  


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          2)Allows local authorities to reduce the prima facie speed limit 
            of 25 mph in a school zone to 20 mph or 15 mph, under certain, 
            limited, conditions.  

          3)Allows for doubling of fines for speed limit violations in 
            highway construction or maintenance zones, under certain 

          4)Specifies that a person with 4 or more violation points in a 
            12 month period, 6 or more violation points in at 24 month 
            period, or 8 or more violation points in a 36 month period is 
            presumed to be a negligent motor vehicle operator and is 
            subject to driver's license suspension.  

           FISCAL EFFECT  :  Unknown

           COMMENTS  :  Existing law generally provides for a prima facie 
          speed limit of 25 mph in school zones when children are present. 
          Recently enacted legislation (AB 321( Nava) Chapter 384, 
          Statutes of 2007) allows a local authority, by ordinance, to 
          determine and declare a school zone speed limit of 15 mph or 20 
          mph, under certain circumstances.  To declare a 15 or 20 mph 
          school zone speed limit, the local jurisdiction must conduct 
          engineering and traffic surveys to show that the 25 mph speed 
          limit is more than is reasonable or safe.  Also, lowering the 
          speed limit to 15 mph or 20 mph can only be done on a highway 
          with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or slower.  

          AB 321 limited conditions under which the speed limit can be 
          reduced to avoid creating a significant variation in speed along 
          the route since traffic studies show that an immediate and 
          significant drop in speeds can exacerbate traffic tie ups and 
          result in increased accidents and associated safety issues.  For 
          example, the abrupt slowing of vehicles speeds from 30 mph or 
          higher to 15 mph to 20 mph could increase the number of rear-end 
          collisions or cars swerving out to avoid rear-end collisions 
          which could further jeopardize bicyclists and pedestrians.  

          According to the author, speeding remains a problem in school 
          zones where local jurisdictions are unable to effectively reduce 
          the speed limit to 15mph or 20 mph and that the resources to 
          maintain a serious enforcement presence to curb speeding in 
          those school zones are limited.  The author notes that in Goleta 
          alone, at least four schools were unable to lower the speed 
          limit to 15 mph or 20 mph and, as a result, chronic and 


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          excessive speeding in these school zones continues.  The author 
          cites surveys that show, at times when children are present, 
          average speeds of 10 mph to 20 mph over the posted 25 mph speed 
          limit are the norm.  The author contends that by increasing 
          fines, speeding in school zones would be reduced.  

          Fines are generally set to be commensurate with the crime.  The 
          Legislature has, however, authorized doubling of fines under 
          certain circumstances.  For example, fines are doubled in 
          highway construction and maintenance areas (AB 708 (Epple) 
          Chapter 674, Statutes of 1993), but only during times when 
          traffic is regulated or restricted through or around the area or 
          when highway construction or maintenance work is actually being 
          performed and traffic controls or warning signs are erected to 
          notify motorists of construction or maintenance workers in the 

          The Judicial Council annually adopts a uniform traffic penalty 
          schedule which is applicable to all non-parking infractions 
          specified in the Vehicle Code.  In establishing the uniform 
          penalty schedule, the Judicial Council classifies offenses into 
          four or fewer penalty categories, according to the severity of 
          the offense, so as to permit convenient notice and payment of 
          the scheduled penalty.  

          Under current law, the base fine for speeding in a school zone 
          is set in the uniform penalty schedule as $35 for traveling 1 
          mph to 15 mph over the speed limit ($154 total fine with fees 
          and court costs), $70 for traveling 16 mph to 25 mph over the 
          speed limit ($280 total fine with fees and court costs), and 
          $100 for traveling 26 mph or more over the speed limit ($400 
          total fine with fees and court costs).  

          This bill would increase base fines for speeding in a school 
          zone to $150 for driving 1 mph to 15 mph over the speed limit, 
          $200 for driving 16 mph to 25 mph over the speed limit, and $250 
          for exceeding the speed limit by 26 mph or more.  According to 
          the Judicial Council, these base fines, with fees and penalties, 
          would result in total fines of $728 for driving 1 mph to 15 over 
          the speed limit, $928 for driving 16 mph to 25 mph over the 
          speed limit, and $1,128 for traveling 26 mph or higher over the 
          speed limit, well exceeding fines established for other 
          violations including, engaging in speed contests, exceeding 
          maximum speed limits by 26 mph or more, or driving with a 
          suspended or revoked license.  


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          Committee Concerns:  The author's intent, to make conditions 
          safer for children in school zones by slowing traffic, is 
          certainly laudable.  Nonetheless, this bill raises a number of 
          concerns such as:  

          1)This bill relies on the presupposition that the threat of 
            increased fines will sufficiently influence driver behavior 
            and infers that drivers are speeding in school zones because 
            current fines are insufficient to influence driver behavior.  
            It is generally accepted in the field of traffic engineering, 
            however, that effective speed management combines engineering, 
            enforcement, and education strategies to reduce speed-related 
            accidents.  This bill fails to address any of these three 
            strategies.  For example, consider the following:

             a)   Engineering:  Drivers generally drive at the speed which 
               they believe is prudent and safe.  Engineering solutions 
               such as flashing yellow lights, warning signs, planted 
               medians, or even curb bulb-outs are effectively used to 
               affect the driver's perception of what is a safe and 
               prudent speed.  The committee was unable to ascertain 
               whether or not any of these solutions have been attempted 
               to resolve the problem of speeding through school zones in 

             b)   Education:  This bill would impose stiff penalties 
               without the requirement that motorists be informed of the 
               penalties.  Consider by way of contrast provisions in 
               existing law that provide for increased fines in 
               construction zones or automated red light enforcement.  
               These provisions require motorists to be informed of the 
               increased penalties by signs posted at or near the 
               construction zone or the intersection.  This bill includes 
               no such requirement; and,  

             c)   Enforcement:  The author states that this bill is 
               necessary, in part, because the resources to maintain a 
               serious enforcement presence to curb speeding in school 
               zones are limited.  Higher penalties are unlikely to curb 
               speeding if there is no law enforcement presence to issue 

          2)The author specifies that this bill is intended to affect 
            school zones that could not otherwise be affected by lowering 


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            speed limits to 15 mph or 20 mph, as authorized under AB 321.  
            AB 539, however, applies to all school zones.  Consequently, 
            motorists will be subjected to a sort of double-jeopardy-that 
            is, an artificially low speed limit combined with 
            extraordinary penalties for exceeding those speed limits.  

          3)The author offers evidence from four schools in his district 
            that speeding through school zones is a chronic problem that 
            needs to be fixed via a statewide solution.  However, the 
            committee was not able to ascertain that speeding in school 
            zones is, in fact, a chronic statewide problem meriting a 
            statewide solution, as this bill proposes.   

          4)Generally, the Vehicle Code assigns higher penalties to 
            traffic violations with potential for injury or death.  Fines 
            proposed by this bill (up to $250 with the possibility for 
            additional penalties for repeat offenses) significantly exceed 
            those of arguably greater offenses such as: passing a school 
            bus with flashing signals ($150 base fine); overtaking 
            vehicles stopped for pedestrians ($100 base fine); and 
            speeding over 100 mph ($120 base fine).  Consequently, the 
            monetary penalties imposed by this bill are not equitable in 
            the context of other traffic violations.  

           Previous Legislation  :  AB 321 (Nava), Chapter 384, Statutes of 
          2007, authorized local governments, under certain conditions, to 
          extend school safety zones from 500 feet to 1,000 feet and 
          authorized the reduction of speed limits from 25 mph to 15 mph 
          when approaching at a distance of 500 feet and passing a school. 

          SB 1227 (Denham) of 2006, would have allowed, until January 1, 
          2010, a prima facie speed limit of 15 miles per hour for 
          specified school zones in Merced and Monterey counties.  That 
          bill would have also required local authorities in these 
          counties to report to the California Highway Patrol on the 
          collisions, citations, average vehicle speed, speed limits, and 
          use of specified "children are present" signs.  SB 1227 was held 
          under submission in the Senate Committee on Appropriations.  

          AB 1886 (Jackson) Chapter 590, Statutes of 2001, allowed for the 
          increase of fines for traffic violations in school zones within 
          Alameda, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties.  That bill sunset 
          on January 1, 2007.  


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          AB 708 (Epple) Chapter 674, Statutes of 1993, provided that in 
          highway construction and maintenance areas, in specified 
          misdemeanor cases, fines shall be double the amount otherwise 
          prescribed, and, in the case of an infraction, the fine shall be 
          one category higher than the penalty otherwise prescribed by the 
          uniform traffic penalty schedule.  

           Double referral  :  This bill has also been referred to the 
          Committee on Public Safety.  


          California State PTA
          California State Sheriffs' Association (CSSA)
          California WALKS
          City of Goleta
          Peace Officers Research Association of California

          AAA Clubs

          Analysis Prepared by  :   Victoria Alvarez / TRANS. / (916) 319-