Driving thru School Zones
“…about 800 children between the ages of 5 and 18 were killed during normal school transportation hours while traveling by passenger car, foot, bicycle, public transportation and school bus. Many more were injured or suffered close calls.” - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
“Children aged five through 15 represent only 16 percent of the U.S. population. Yet they account for 30 percent of all pedestrian injuries…” – Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
“Most young children are injured near their home or on their own street. Most crashes involving young children occur between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Most crashes involving young children occur in fair and warm weather.” – South Carolina Department of Public Safety
While most of us may have grown up riding a big yellow bus to school, more than 230 million children of varied ages will be walking through school zones as they head back to classes. Tragically, many of these children will be hurt or killed by motorists and commercial drivers who are rushing and can’t stop or evade in time to avoid a collision.
School Zones are traditionally marked areas around schools where a large number of children will be present during early morning and mid-afternoon hours. However, you should be on guard near playgrounds, residential areas, marked transit stops and bus pickup locations, too.
While schools and safety agencies do their part to educate children to the dangers of walking to school, the bulk of the responsibility remains with the driver: to be vigilant, to recognize possible hazards and to adjust their driving accordingly. Drivers should remember that younger children exhibit less predictable behavior: they may not judge oncoming traffic’s speed properly, they may dart out from behind parked cars and they may be playing with friends (distracted) as they walk to school.
Remember, children heading to school may also use skateboards, bikes and rollerblades! The added speed and instability of these devices make children unpredictable – they could fall in front of or beside your vehicle without warning.
Three great reasons for taking extra precautions when driving in or near a school zone:
1. An injury could mean great pain and possible death or disfigurement to the child and unbearable sorrow to his or her family.
2. Your own feelings of guilt and remorse for injuring or killing a child
3. This type of collision could result in lawsuits for you and your employer.
As a driver the most important thing you can do to protect children in school zones is to slow down, increase your scanning and remove all distractions.
What is the Purpose of a School Speed Zone?
A School Speed Zone is made to reduce the speed limit on a street during times when school children cross the roadway so that:
A driver has more time to recognize and react to a pedestrian within the roadway, allowing enough distance to slow, evade and/or stop prior to an incident.
Young school children will have more time to accurately anticipate vehicular movements to safely cross the roadway.
Further, a vehicle-pedestrian crash will be much less severe at a reduced speed:
Vehicle Speed Chance of Fatality
40 MPH 80%
30 MPH 40%
25 MPH 20%
20 MPH 5%
How Do We Decide Where to Place and How to Designate School Speed Zones?
The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration is the nationally recognized standard for traffic control. This is used by all municipalities throughout the USA in order to maintain uniformity in traffic control.
School zones must be designated by signs and may include flashing lights.
Signs designating a school zone indicate the maximum speed limit applicable.
When considering a School Speed Zone, the MUTCD requires that an engineering study define appropriate locations and methods for controlling traffic flow through the area. The study covers issues like: pedestrian routes; crossing activity; traffic volumes; vehicle speeds and crash history.
School Speed Zones are encouraged where all of the following conditions exist:
There is a school crosswalk with probable schoolchild pedestrian crossing activity that is not protected by a traffic signal or stop sign,
The adjacent school is elementary level instruction, and
The posted speed limit is less than 40 mph.
School areas that do not meet these conditions should not have a school speed zone. For instance, in the following cases a school speed zone is discouraged:
Street with slow travel speeds,
Where crosswalks are controlled by a stop sign or traffic signal,
When the school has no students who walk or ride bicycles to school (lack of pedestrian/bicycle accommodations or school policy prohibits students from walking or biking to school),
If no children cross the roadway, or
The posted speed limit is 40 mph or greater.
Tips for Drivers to Consider
Generally, pedestrians have the right of way at intersections (especially while occupying marked crosswalks). Considering this, drivers should not stop inside crosswalks (i.e. occupy the crosswalk with the front wheels) at stop signs or traffic lights. Additionally, when drivers see pedestrian crossing signs, they ought to pick up their visual scanning for pedestrians and for crosswalks.
It’s important to pay attention to your surroundings at all times since people may cross mid-block and assume you see them – even if you don’t spot them.
Some school zones have temporary speed restrictions marked by flashing amber lights (if lights are flashing, the posted speed restriction is in effect). It is important to respect this speed restriction since it is an enforceable speed limit, not a suggestion. Other motorists may be impatient, but the restriction is in place to safeguard the children.
When passing a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction, do so slowly and leave at least a distance between you and the bicycle of no less than three feet. Maintain this clearance until you have safely passed the bicycle.
School Zones are used to reduce vehicle speeds in school areas where there is a high probability of youthful pedestrians crossing a street at an uncontrolled location. Many drivers continue to speed through school zones and residential areas. If you exceed the posted limit, you are breaking the law. Speeding reduces reaction time, and increases braking distance. If a child darts in front of your vehicle, you may not be able to stop in time. Slow down and obey all traffic laws and speed limits, both in school zones and in neighborhoods surrounding the school.