Every morning and afternoon, millions of school aged children make their way to and from schools across the country. Some walk, some ride bikes, some ride buses and others are dropped off and picked up by their parents in automobiles.
According to the Transportation Research Board, more than 100 children are killed every year while walking to and from school. About 25,000 are injured. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) child pedestrians are particularly vulnerable due to their lower awareness of risk and impulsive behavior. Nearly half of all school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes were ages 5-7.
So the question is do we need safer school zones and how do we make school zone’s safer?
Do We Need Safer School Zones?
As discussed above, the NHTSA estimates that 100 children are killed every year and 25,000 injured while walking to and from school. Buttressing this point is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has found that Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than a passenger vehicle occupant to be killed in a car crash.
Safety of children should be our highest priority. As parents, there is no greater nightmare than the thought of losing your child whether it be by disease or the reckless actions of an individual. There is no cost or value that we can put on children’s lives. As such, any program that can make their trip to school safe should be implemented.
How Do We Make School Zones Safer?
One area McIntyre Law feels would benefit the State of Oklahoma is instituting automated speed enforcement (“ASE”) in school zones.
What is ASE? ASE is a combination of radar and image capturing technologies that detect speeding and collect photographic evidence of violations. Currently, only 11 states and the District of Columbia have ASE programs.
One question that typically arises when we mention ASE is whether or not they are actually effective. In demonstrating their efficacy, the NHTSA commissioned a study during 2005 in five neighborhood schools in Portland Oregon. The study involved the deployment of ASE in five school zones with documented traffic speed problems during a three-month period. Five additional school zones served as comparison sites without ASE.
The findings showed the effectiveness of ASE in reducing traffic speeds in school zones. According to the NHTSA study, the major findings were the following:
- Mean and 85th percentile speeds at demonstration school zones were reduced by approximately 5 mph when ASE was present, and ASE still had an effect (although reduced to 1 to 2 mph) when ASE was not present. The proportion of traffic that exceeded the speed limit by more than 10 mph was reduced by about two-thirds when ASE was present, and by about one-quarter when ASE was not present.
- Maximum speed reduction was obtained with the combination of ASE and a flashing beacon, which is used during certain hours at many Portland school zones.
- The speed reduction effects observed at the demonstration school zones were still present one month after ASE operations ceased in May 2005.
- Speeds at most of the comparison locations were unchanged during this test, indicating that the speed reductions at demonstration schools were attributable to the ASE program.
The findings suggest that Oklahoma and other states should look at adopting the use of ASE devices for deterrent purposes in school zones. Their visibility along with public awareness enhances the safety of these areas by reducing vehicle speeds and crashes.
Safety Tips for Drivers in School Zones
Aside from ASE and Police presence in school zones, individuals should take it upon themselves to incorporate safe driving in school zones. Travelsmart.ca has a list of 8 suggestions we recommend you follow for safety in school zones.
- As you approach the school, be particularly mindful of kids dashing out onto the streets. Children haven't developed the cognitive skills yet to perceive traffic danger. They have difficulty telling how fast cars are moving and assume if they can see the car, the driver sees them.
- Follow the speed limit. Kids assume that cars can stop immediately so keep your reflexes sharp so you can make quick decisions if needed.
- Unless the school has a specific drop-off area, don't drive onto school property. You'll only add to the congestion and make it more confusing for drivers trying to navigate the parking lot. This scenario also creates a dangerous environment for kids who may be weaving through this area.
- Consider parking a few blocks away from school so you and your children get some of the benefits of a brisk walk in the fresh air. You'll most likely save time and definitely reduce stress. You'll also lower the number of cars entering the school zone, creating a safer (and less polluted!) environment.
- Don't use the space by school-area crosswalks as a drop-off or pick-up point. These are kept clear for a reason! If you park there, you'll greatly reduce visibility for motorists and make it difficult for them to clearly see if anyone's using the crosswalk.
- Never pass a vehicle that has slowed down or has stopped at a crosswalk. When you're in a school zone, assume that the car in front of you has slowed down because of a child crossing or nearing a crosswalk. You may not be able to see a small child from behind another car.
- When dropping off your children, ensure it's in a safe environment, ideally on the curb that's on the same side of the street as the school. Never let them leave the car in the middle of traffic, even if you're at a stop sign or light.
- If you have teenagers that are starting to drive themselves to school, use this as an opportunity to teach them about sustainable transportation methods. For example, agree to let them borrow the family car only if they ride-share and drive siblings or several friends to school as well. Or coordinate household schedules so other people in the house can get a ride to a transit hub on their way to work.
Practical Tips for Children in School Zones
Although the above are important steps in increasing school zone safety, McIntyre Law still believes the best thing you can do for your children is to educate them on School safety. In particular, educate your children about the dangers presented by automobiles and during drop-off and pick-up at school.
Loveourchildrenusa.org has compiled a list of great tips for parents to give to their kids as they walk or ride to school. We recommend you educate your kids as to the following:
- Obey all traffic signals and/or the crossing guard.
- Never cross the street against a light, even if you don't see any traffic coming.
- Walk your bike through intersections.
- For children walking to school, plan a walking route to school or the bus stop. Choose the most direct way with the fewest street crossings. Use intersections with crossing guards. Rehearse the route with your child. Tell him/her to stay away from parks, vacant lots, fields and other places where there aren't many people around.
- Teach children – whether walking, biking, or riding the bus to school – to obey all traffic signals, signs, traffic officers and safety patrols. Remind them to be extra careful in rainy, foggy or other inclement weather.
- Make sure they walk to and from school with others …always have a buddy.
- Wear reflective material…it makes you more visible to street traffic.
Remember, at the end of the day you and your children can prevent traffic accidents through education. Talk to your kids and educate them daily about school zone safety.