With kids flowing in and out of class for a new school year starting today (Tuesday), the Nicola Valley Speed Watch and the Merritt RCMP are reminding drivers to slow down in school zones.

As the speed watch co-ordinator, Chris George is focusing efforts in school zones for all of September, increasing patrol from the regular five times per month.

“We need to get people out of the holiday mode,” he said. “They still haven’t clicked that school is back in, even though some of the speeders have kids.”

He said cellphones are another major issue, particularly among those who text.

“A school zone is a high-alert area on its own and when you’re in a school zone talking… In my opinion texting is worse because you’re looking at your phone the whole time,” he said, while standing beside a speedometer display along Highway 8 in Lower Nicola.

After about 20 minutes monitoring speeds, George and his partner John F. Isaac clocked three speeders and noticed six people without seatbelts.

“I was watching that the speed board had someone at 79 kilometres [per hour] coming from town and being still in town when he reached that speed,” George said.

The stats collected go to the local RCMP, to ICBC and to the Lower Nicola Indian Band.

“This section is a problem area,” George said, noting the speed limit changes from 80, to 60, to 50 and then back to 80 kilometres an hour within a distance of about four kilometres along the highway. “A lot of elders use this area as their exercise, with a lot of them looking for bottles, just to keep themselves busy.”

The police occasionally join the speed watch efforts, which George said the volunteers value because it encourages people to associate the crew with enforcement.

“If we can get some tickets handed out, it sets even more of a precedence that the RCMP do sit with these guys and maybe I should be paying attention when I see them in town or on the highway,” he said, adding that the speed limit is 30 kilometres in school zones from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., starting today.

Merritt RCMP Sgt. Norm Fleming said school zones are maintained until dusk.

“When school starts at the beginning of each school year, there is always that transition period,” he said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure we remember to slow down and pay attention to those school zones.”

He said drivers need to make the effort to focus on the new speed limits.

“It’s just a matter of recognizing that the kids are back in school,” he said.