How do you define “children” in school zones? Are those harsh blue headlights legal? When must emergency vehicles use their sirens? The answers to these reader questions follow.

When are “children” present?

I frequently drive Fulton Road past Piner High School. There is signage that says it’s a 25 mph zone when “Children Are Present.” My question is, since most upper class high school students are adult sized, how can you tell when children are present as opposed to ordinary adults?

It’s very clear when school is letting out and there are many folks with backpacks swarming the sidewalks. No problem there. It’s less clear when there is one individual — adult-sized, maybe a teen, waiting at the bus stop, well off the street. Does that count? I guess the issue is where does one draw the line? I certainly know and understand the intent of the law. It’s more about actual practice. – Stuart Dole

Sgt. Mike Numainville of Santa Rosa PD’s traffic bureau has this answer.

“I don’t have a clear cut answer. I believe most officers would use the same discretion your reader talked about. They also would consider time of day and how the ‘child’ or teenager is dressed. As far as the number of kids, I believe an officer would be justified in issuing a citation for speeding if only one child was present, even though the sign makes it sound like there has to be more than one.

“The common sense practice is that all of us would want other drivers to slow down, even it was only one child and the child was our own.”

Bright blue headlights

Readers have asked about the legality of cars with the annoying bright bluish headlines along with the bright lights on trucks and buses:

Why are most semis, buses & large truck appear to be all driving on the freeway with their High beams on during the evening? It’s annoying enough with the standard vehicles who for whatever reason drive with their High beams on also, do they not know what the bright blue High beam indicator on the dash means? — Scott Kawahara

Officer Jonathan Sloat of the California Highway Patrol has the answers.

“We get calls on the blue lights as well. The ones legal in CA only appear blue at certain angles. Others that remain blue are illegal. If you see aftermarket lights for sale, they should be marked ‘Legal in CA, or Meets federal/state requirements.’ If they are marked ‘Check state law’ or something to that effect, they are illegal. We take enforcement action if they are steady blue to the front at all angles.

“As for the high beams, the trucks may not have them on. Because they are situated higher, the beam goes directly into the rear-view mirror of an average sized vehicle. There is a law that covers how the headlights are adjusted so that they are not doing this.”

Emergency vehicles without sirens

I live in the rural part of the county on Mill Station road.  The posted speed limit is  35 mph, but most folks drive at 50 mph.   My driveway has a bit of a blind exit.   I have enough sight-line to exit my driveway safely most of the time, but yesterday I was making a left turn out of my driveway.   As I pulled out I realized an emergency vehicle was coming from the right at a very high speed with emergency lights on, but no siren.

 I was nearly hit by this vehicle because at the speed it was moving I couldn’t see it coming.  Had there been a siren, I would have been warned and waited until it passed.  The Graton Fire department is mostly volunteer. Is there some rule about volunteer emergency vehicles not having a siren? — Ken

There is no such rule, said Officer Sloat. If a vehicle has emergency lights and has been CHP certified as an authorized emergency vehicle,  it is required to have a siren. “The Vehicle Code states the siren should be used ‘as needed,’ and in general that determination is up to the driver.”

Bill Bullard, assistant chief at Graton Fire Department, thanked Ken for bringing the issue to his attention and vowed to research the specific call. “We will determine whether the driver needs additional counseling and training on emergency driving,” he said. “We only use the siren as needed. This is a difficult balancing act between notifying the public of our approach and not being annoying.

“This call occurred at 3:15 a.m., and my initial theory is the driver was being conservative on siren use due to lack of vehicles on the road and not wanting to wake everyone up.”

If you have a question, send it Attn: Road Warrior to Linda.castrone@pressdemocrat.com.


Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter at @PDRoadWarrior.

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  1. Wilson

    re: truck headlights

    Among California vehicle laws, one states that the headlights on any motor vehicle can be no more than 36″ off of the ground. Big trucks and buses must adhere to that law which is why their headlights seem to be just above their bumpers. So unless you have a very small or low car, their headlights shouldn’t be an issue unless their high beams are on. Police officers do seem to ignore this a lot.

    And this also means that most vehicles (4×4 pickups and Jeeps for example) that have raised suspensions are, in fact, illegal to drive on the streets since this moves their headlights above that 36″ level. And as many as I see on a regular basis including at night, this is another one that law enforcement tends to ignore.

    April 8th, 2013 10:05 am

  2. Deputy Chief Bullard

    Hi Road Warrior & Ken,

    We investigated this driving concern and determined that our fire engine did not drive on Mill Station Road to this particular call; it was most likely the ambulance or a police car headed to another emergency call. As mentioned earlier, siren use at 3AM is generally conservative… or we would be getting lots of complaints for too much noise!!!

    Thanks again for bringing this to our attention.

    April 8th, 2013 10:49 am

  3. Brad

    I slow down when I see anyone in a school zone. The SRPD would love to give you an expensive citation for any reason. If the kids are behind a fenced area, I believe it’s OK to exceed 25 MPH.

    April 8th, 2013 11:12 am

  4. Road.Warrior

    Thank you for checking into it. Much appreciated.

    April 8th, 2013 11:32 am

  5. Todd

    Speaking as a retired EMT, ambulances do avoid using sirens at night in residential areas. Another reason to go silent is to avoid upsetting a patient who may already be very anxious.

    April 8th, 2013 8:54 pm

  6. JLR

    It was always my understanding that School Zone speed limits and the “When children are present” signs referred to when the children were attending school…on school days, in other words during holidays/weekends/summer break etc. I never thought it meant when children were physically on the sidewalks/streets. Seems to me that then the speed limit could change by the minute…doesn’t sound safe to me.

    April 16th, 2013 10:59 am

  7. JLR

    Sorry, I meant to say…in other words during holidays/weekends/summer break etc. “the lower speed limit would not apply”

    April 16th, 2013 11:02 am

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