Home News New California bill would lower school zone speed limit to 20 mph

New California bill would lower school zone speed limit to 20 mph

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Seventeen months after a third-grader was hit and killed in a crosswalk on his way to school, parents, educators and a state lawmaker gathered at Castlemont Elementary School on Thursday to remember Jacob Villanueva, whose death has become a catalyst to make school zones safer across California.

State Assembly member Marc Berman said 8-year-old Jacob’s death inspired the Menlo Park Democrat to introduce legislation that would lower speed limits in school zones from 25 to 20 mph or less.

“I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this is a deeply personal and painful subject for the Castlemont Community,” Berman said at a news conference announcing the bill Thursday morning. “I know that the pain and trauma of losing a student in 2022 is still very real for the community.”

Campbell Union School District Superintendent, Dr. Shelly Viramontez, speaks to Assemblymember Marc Berman after a press conference about proposed legislation to lower speed limits in school zones at Castlemont Elementary School in Campbell, Calif., on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
Campbell Union School District Superintendent, Dr. Shelly Viramontez, speaks to Assemblymember Marc Berman after a press conference about proposed legislation to lower speed limits in school zones at Castlemont Elementary School in Campbell, Calif., on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Jacob was on his way to the Campbell school with his babysitter on the morning of Sept. 16, 2022, when a woman driving a 2022 Mercedes-Benz crossover turned left and hit them in the crosswalk of a single-lane road that neighbors warned was an accident waiting to happen. Jacob died at the hospital, and his babysitter suffered a broken leg.

Berman said Jacob’s death brought back memories of his time in middle school when a fellow student was hit and killed while biking to school.

“Together we channel that grief into a desperately needed conversation about school zone safety,” Berman said.

Traffic accidents are the number one cause of death for school-age children in California, but the state has some of the fastest school zone speeds in the country, he added.

Currently, school zones restrict speeds to 25 mph when children are present. But Berman explained that those guidelines do not protect parents, school employees or other adults traveling to and from schools.

If passed, AB 2583 — the Safer School Zones Act — would lower speed limits and enforce the limits to include heavy pedestrian traffic times from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The bill would also improve safety-oriented planning within half a mile of schools.

As Berman spoke in front of the school at the corner of Payne and Castlemont, several cars rolled through the four-way intersection — some not bothering to fully stop —  without a spare glance.

Kirsten Bladh, the associate director of state policy for Streets for All, the pedestrian advocacy organization that sponsored AB 2583, said dangerous intersections and distracted drivers make her worry about her daughter walking to school.

“I’m the mom of a 2-year-old girl who will be in kindergarten before I know it,” Bladh said. “Her future kindergarten is just a quarter of a mile from our house, but I don’t feel safe making that walk with her, because I watch every day as drivers ignore the children in the crosswalks and speed past the school.”

Berman said the legislation includes flexibility for communities who would like to further adjust the hours and speed limits inside of school zones. If the bill passes, Berman said he will work to get funding to school districts for new signage “as quickly as possible.”

“It might be a multi-year process based on this year’s budget reality,” Berman said. “We fully appreciate that this isn’t something where you snap your fingers and it can immediately go into effect.”

A memorial for Jacob Villanueva, 8, who was hit and killed by a car while walking to school with his baby sitter in 2022, near Castlemont Elementary School in Campbell, Calif., on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
A memorial for Jacob Villanueva, 8, who was hit and killed by a car while walking to school with his baby sitter in 2022, near Castlemont Elementary School in Campbell, Calif., on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Campbell Union School District Superintendent Shelly Viramontez said nearly 300 students walk to Castlemont Elementary school every day. Viramontez said that she often hears concerns from parents in the community about speeding cars in school zones, and she’s optimistic that the bill will receive the support it needs.

“Unfortunately, as we heard today, the changes come too late for our dear student Jacob,” Viramontez said. “We are determined that Jacob’s death will not be in vain, and this is one more step in the right direction. Any tragedy is one tragedy too many, and we are committed to continue working with our state legislators to approve pedestrian safety conditions, not only in our school community but in every school community.”



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