East County, and perhaps farther, has been plagued with a chain of incidents at schools, and around schools, since the start of the academic school year. This means it is more critical than ever for students, and drivers, to be aware of school zones when children are arriving to campus and heading home for the day. School zones are meant to alert drivers of the presence of children coming and going to school. However, the reality is that many drivers choose to overlook the rules. This puts our children at an elevated risk for injury and ourselves at a higher risk of collision. School zone safety is important to parents, educators, and drivers. Understanding how to prevent collisions will create safer conditions for children throughout the year.
School Zone Safety Problems Are Not Isolated Problems
In conversations with local traffic enforcement officials, the largest complaints around schools seem to be similar throughout different school districts. One theory is that schools were built when there were smaller student populations and more students either walked or were bused to school. Today, due to population growth and reduced access to buses, parents are obligated to drive their children to school and pick them up. This causes major traffic congestion, and with that, impatient and frustrated drivers and greater risks for people breaking safe school zone driving laws.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 50% of pedestrian fatalities are people under the age of 19. They also reported that nearly 25% of high school students and 1 in 6 middle school students were observed to be distracted walkers, 80% crossed streets unsafely, and 33% of drivers in school zones were distracted. These are numbers that may explain the behavior of drivers, and pedestrians, at our local schools. It is important to remember that although these behaviors are frustrating, they are also illegal
School Zone Safety Infractions
Students not using crosswalks
Students who do not cross at crosswalks are putting themselves at risk. When they cross at unmarked locations, drivers may not see them — or may see them too late. Distracted pedestrians, or drivers, make the risk of a collision, or injury, even greater.
Students distracted with headphones and/or cell phones
When students are walking with headphones on, or with their heads buried in their phones, their senses are not keeping them aware of the environment around them. Walking without awareness to drivers, sirens, or other risks means they are putting themselves into danger. Paired with drivers who are focused on their phones, or other distractions inside, or outside of the car only compounds the risk and elevates danger. People cannot respond quickly when they are not paying attention.
Outside of many schools, parents park illegally. From parking in red, no-parking zones, to leaving their cars unattended in white loading zones to double parking. These illegal parking behaviors add to the congestion and frustration of driving. However, they are also putting drivers and pedestrians at risk. When cars pull out of illegal parking spaces, they may not see a student crossing the street, or another car pulling out of another illegal space.
School zones are marked for 25 miles per hour when students are around. Perhaps attempting to beat school traffic, drivers cruise through school zones regardless of students being present, or not. However, speeding where students are present means an increased risk of a pedestrian collision, especially when students are not crossing at legal crosswalks.
Illegal U-Turns are another major driving infraction that adds to traffic congestion, frustration, and risk of injury or collision. Although people may do it to save time, it ultimately is making the drop-off, or pick-up process at schools longer, and more exasperating than it needs to be.
Practice Road Safety For Safe School Zone
There are many things we can do, as drivers and as pedestrians, to make our school zones safer. Improving safety around schools means we can have peace of mind our children are safe, while also knowing we are taking all the steps we can to keep ourselves just as safe.
- Use crosswalks, when crossing on foot or on a bike: In all 50 states, drivers must stop at intersections with stop signs or traffic signals and yield to crossing guards escorting pedestrians across the road. Ensure your children or teens cross at designated crosswalks – and as a driver, yield to students crossing.
- Take off headphones and put phones away. Pay attention! Whether your student is a driver, or on food, ensure your students are aware of their surroundings and not crossing the street while listening to music, sending text messages, or not paying attention to the road conditions. The National Safety Council recommends teaching the slogan, “Head Up, Phone Down” anytime a road must be crossed.
- Slow down: Although schools have signage reminding drivers to slow down, guaranteed safety comes when drivers really do slow down to make sure unexpected students crossing into the street can be seen.
- Park only in legal parking spots: If you must park while picking up, or dropping off your students, take the time to park legally. Illegal parking, including double parking, is a hazard, to other drivers and to students. Do not park in red zones or white zones and be sure you do not double park.
- Expect the unexpected: Children and teens are just unpredictable and have a tendency to run when they play. Drivers should always be focused on the road while
Keep Our Students Safe At School
There is no doubt that there have been numerous unnecessary accidents, losses, and injuries in school zones due to people not following good road safety practices. The traffic congestion of our local school zones cannot be undenied. However, breaking the law does not fix the problem, but adds to the hazardous conditions. As parents, and community members, our goal should be on safe driving to protect our students, and keep ourselves and our passengers safe.
To learn more about safe driving practices, review the driver’s handbook, speak with a CHP officer, or take a driver’s safety course. For more traffic concerns, meet with the traffic engineers in your community. But, most of all, ensure you are part of the solutions by practicing safe driving around schools and not adding to the dangerous conditions of our crowded roadways.
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