As the school year has already started here in the Phoenix, AZ, valley, we want to bring awareness to an issue that is of utmost importance and should be discussed all year round. Whether your child in school is a first grader or just about to graduate high school, school zones and bus stops are very common places for accidents. The Transportation Research Board estimates approximately 25,000 accidents per year and 100 deaths in school zones. There are also an additional 17,000 kids that are hurt around buses each year, according to Stanford Children’s Health. Adding them all up, roughly 42,000 school kids each year are involved in an automobile accident. In this article, we will learn how to raise awareness and provide solutions to the public on how we can help dissolve this number.
A school zone starts at the front door of the school and surrounds the campus, including several street blocks, and will always have a high concentration of school-generated traffic. The school zone includes the streets surrounding the school and is marked with special signage. School zones signs alert the car traffic and vehicle drivers to slow down and be extra cautious in their driving. There is no shortage of signs alarming people of a school zone. There are school crossing signs, school zone pavement markings, speed limit signs, speed bumps, etc. These are all used to make sure drivers slow way down throughout the entirety of the marked school zone. If you are pulled over for going over the speed limit in a school zone, the fine is astronomically more severe than a regular speeding ticket. All these signs and road rules are put in place so there will be no small-pedestrian accidents. Unfortunately, it does not prevent these school zone-related accidents due to distracting walking, distracted teens, unsafe crossing, and unsafe drop-off or pick-up.
In 2016, Safekids.org observed 39,000 middle school and high schoolers and 56,000 drivers in school zones. They learned that there are 5 teen pedestrian deaths every week in the United States. There has been a 13% increase in small-pedestrian deaths for 12–19-year-olds since 2013. In 2015, ages 15-19 teens made up about half the total pedestrian fatalities. These statistics are devastating, and we need to spread awareness and bring simple solutions to our school zones to prevent these statistics from growing.
Buses are a vital part of the American transportation system, moving millions of children to and from school daily. But did you know that each state has its own unique laws governing buses? It’s important to be aware of these laws and obey them for the safety of everyone involved. For example, as stated in the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Driver License Manual and Customer Service Guide:
“When approaching a school bus that is picking up or dropping off passengers, you must come to a complete stop before reaching the bus, regardless of your direction of travel. A school bus will have alternating flashing lights and a mechanical stop-sign arm extended while passengers are entering or leaving the bus. You must remain stopped until the school bus moves ahead or until the stop-sign arm and flashing lights are no longer shown. Watch for children crossing the road in front of, or behind the school bus. You are not required to stop for a school bus on a divided roadway when traveling in the opposite direction. A divided roadway is one in which the road is separated by physical barriers such as a fence, curbing or separation of the pavement. Roadway striping by itself does not constitute a physical separation of the roadway.”
For those who violate the school bus law, their first offense is a minimum fine of $250. If it is broken again within 36 months, a fine of at least $750 is imposed, and their driver’s license will be suspended up to six months. Over two offenses, the driver will be fined a minimum of $1000 and have their license suspended for one year. Keeping up with changes in your state’s laws and being aware of new schools being built in your area will help you drive safely.
According to the same study from safekids.org, they observed that 1 in 4 high school students and 1 in 6 middle school students were distracted when they walked in their school zone. Distracted walking was most likely from a cell phone or headphones in their ears. 44% of them were wearing headphones and 31% of them were texting. Additionally, the unsafe street crossing was observed in 80% of all the students, and 1 in 3 drivers had unsafe pick-up and drop-off behavior.
The students were not obeying the streetlights, not looking before crossing the street, and not even crossing at the designated crosswalk. 83% of middle schoolers and 76% of high schoolers committed at least one unsafe street-crossing behavior.
In recent years, there has been an uptick in reports of pedestrians being struck by vehicles while crossing the street. In many of these cases, the pedestrian was not paying attention to their surroundings and was preoccupied with their phone or some other form of technology. There are several reasons why this is the case. For one, when pedestrians are not paying attention to their surroundings, they are more likely to walk into oncoming traffic or fail to see a vehicle about to turn. As simple as it gets, they were not paying attention as they walked. This puts them at a much higher risk of being struck by a car or truck. Additionally, distracted walking can impede a pedestrian’s ability to react quickly if they find themselves in a dangerous situation.
Just like distracted driving is detrimental to all parties involved, distracted walking is just as dangerous. Students looking down at their phones to change the song or stop mid-street to respond to a text message could be the very last thing they do. It’s important to teach your kids, no matter their age, to keep their phone in their pocket or bag as they walk in their school zone or on any street. While technology is a big reason for distracted walking, it’s not the case 100% of the time. Kids goofing off, teasing each other, or just simply playing while walking across the street is dangerous too. Teach your children that it’s okay to play, just not while walking near cars in the school zone or on the street. Tell them to save the playing for the playground or for after school at home. No matter your child’s age, toddler to teen, communicate with them and help them understand the importance of safety in school zones.
Additionally, the study observed that 1 in 3 parents was unsafe in their driving behavior, such as double parking, stopping in the middle of a crosswalk, and mobile device use while driving or dropping/picking up their child. As adults, we need to set an excellent example for our children and not use our phones while driving. Using our phones while driving sends a message to our children that it’s okay to do the same. But we know that using a phone while driving is dangerous. It increases the risk of accidents and distracted driving. Approximately 1 in 10 drivers were distracted by their phones when picking up or leaving school drop-off. Just like we can educate and communicate with our children about distracted walking, as parents, the school policies on drop-off and pick-up are supposed to educate and prevent unsafe driving behaviors. These policies need to be enforced for them to do its job. If we want our children to be safe, we must show them how to stay safe on the road. That means no texting, emailing, or phone calls while driving. We must be focused on the road and nothing else when we’re behind the wheel.
What Can Communities Do?
In addition to parents communicating and teaching their children safe school zone practices, there are several things communities can do to prove the sad statistics wrong:
- Identify dangerous school zone areas.
- Aggressively pursue interventions like crosswalks, slow speed limits, visible signs, crossing guards, traffic lights, etc.
- Set and enforce speed limits
- Set and enforce school drop-off and pick-up policies
- Place signs on lawns and paint a road stencil that says “Heads up, phones down.”
The first most common but often missed item is to install proven interventions like crosswalks, speed limits, visible signs, and traffic lights. These interventions have been proven effective in reducing the number and severity of crashes. However, they are often overlooked or not installed properly, resulting in severe injuries and fatalities. In the safekids.org study of the middle and high schoolers, a marked crosswalk was missing in 3 out of 10 observed crossings. Additionally, communities can set and enforce speed limits in the school zones for no more than 20 mph. Low-speed limits were observed in only 4 out of 10 school zones. Finally, parents in the communities or at the school can educate others about dangerous walking and driving habits and implement and enforce school drop-off and pick-up policies. We’ve all been there, you’re in a hurry to pick your child up, and you are tired of waiting in the long parent pick-up line. This slow-moving line is in place to ensure safety all around. So, the next time you’re in a hurry, remember to slow down and relax because you and everyone else in line are saving your children’s lives.
To take action on safe school zone practices, start communicating! Also, contact your school officials and local elected officials.
In conclusion, school zone safety is an important issue that needs to be discussed all year round. It is essential for parents, teachers, and students to be aware of the dangers in and around school zones. By working together, we can keep our children safe and practice safe driving behaviors, and our students can practice safe walking without any distractions.