Nearly a year after a local junior high student was killed by a car on his way to class, local Assemblyman Pedro Nava celebrated the passage of the Safer School Zone Act yesterday with a press conference at Foothill School in Goleta.

Santa Barbara community members and the local Parent Teacher Association helped the 35th District assemblyman create the measure that allows local authorities to determine the speed limit around schools. The press conference was held to announce that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the measure – technically known as AB 321 – into law on Wednesday afternoon.

John Mann, spokesman for Nava’s office, said the Safer School Zone Act is unique because it is a product of the community. He said the idea to reduce speed limits in school zones came to fruition after 12-year-old Jake Boysel was hit and killed by a car on his way to the Foothill School in September 2006.

According to a press release, Nava worked side by side with Santa Barbara residents to develop the act. PTA President Paula Perotte, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Dept. Sgt. Greg Nordyke and Boysel family friend Eva Inbar approached Nava with the idea to reduce speed limits.

“What is so exciting is this answer came from the community,” Nava stated. “Parents and police came to me asking for ways to make traveling to school safer for our kids.”

In the press release, Nava stated that the act stipulates that local authorities have the option of reducing the motor vehicle speed limit to 15 mph on residential streets that have a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less and are within 500 feet of a school, Mann said.

“We extend school zones and reduce the speed limit as drivers get closer to the school,” Nava said. “Children, parents and crossing guards will have more protection.”

According to the Safer School Zone Act fact sheet, the measure is intended to reduce injury and deaths of school-aged children. Annually in California, pedestrian fatalities are the third leading cause of death for people under the age of 15.

A pedestrian struck by a car traveling at 40 mph has a 15 percent chance of survival, according to the fact sheet. At 30 mph, passersby have a 55 percent chance of survival, and at 20 mph, they have an 85 percent chance of survival.

Before the act reached the governor, it passed through the state Assembly by a vote of 78 to 0, then went through the Senate with a vote of 21 to 15, Mann said.

With the passage of the bill, California joins 15 other states that have already reduced the speed limit around schools. According to the press release, studies in Arizona have shown a strong correlation between lower speed limits and a decreased number of vehicular accidents.