Nothing is more important to parents than the safety of their children.
Nothing should be more important to drivers than slowing down when kids are present. That's why school zone accidents should never happen.
Unfortunately, the statistics have a different story to tell.
School Zone Accident Deaths and Injuries
Every year in the United States, at least 100 children are killed in collisions while walking to or from school. About half of all deaths of children in or near school zones involve kids who are 15 or older.
The Transportation Research Board reports that 25,000 children are injured every year in school zone accidents.
But children account for only one of five school zone accident victims. The majority of pedestrians who are hit by a vehicle in a school zone are adults.
School zone accidents have decreased in recent years for children under the age of 12, probably due to rigorous enforcement of traffic laws in school zones.
The death rate has increased, however, for children who are older than 12. That's probably due to the fact that more kids are using electronic devices while walking when they should be watching the road.
Causes of School Zone Accidents
Pedestrians and drivers are both responsible for school zone accidents, although drivers bear the ultimate responsibility. Drivers are required to exercise extra caution in school zones, and accidents only happen when drivers fail to carry out that duty.
Children are increasingly distracted by electronic devices as they walk to or from school. They text their friends, they surf the internet, or they search for tunes to play on their headsets.
When they focus on screens, they don't always look at the road before they enter a crossing.
A recent study found that 1 out of 4 high school students engaged in distracted walking in school zones. About 1 out of 6 middle school students engaged in similar behavior.
In addition, kids tend to cross the street at any point they deem convenient, rather than walking to a marked school crossing. The study observed 80% of students crossing outside of the designated crossing area.
The same study, however, found that one in three parents also engaged in unsafe behaviors when dropping off or picking up their children.
For example, school zones often have a “drop-off area” where parents should stop their cars so that their children don't need to cross the street. Parents, however, were often observed parking across from the drop-off area, forcing their children to navigate traffic before reaching a safe area.
Driving while distracted also causes accidents in school zones. A driver who texts while driving past a school is much more dangerous than a student who texts while crossing the street.
Speeding in School Zones
Many school zones have speed limit signs that set a limit (typically 25 mph) “when children are present.” According to California law, the speed limit applies while school grounds “are in use by children.” And if there is no fence around the school grounds, the law generally requires drivers to drive at the lower limit during school hours.
The failure to obey the school zone speed limit explains why accidents so often happen in school zones. At 25 mph, the stopping distance for an average vehicle and a driver with average reaction times is at least 56 feet.
At 35 mph, the stopping distance is at least 95 feet. Traveling at a normal speed instead of slowing down for the school zone therefore adds 40 feet to stopping distance.
School Zone Safety Tips
Drivers and pedestrians should both exercise care in a school zone. Personal injury lawyers see far too many cases of pedestrians who are injured or killed in school zones. Following a few simple tips could greatly reduce the number of school zone accidents.
Tips for drivers:
- Assume that children are present whenever you drive past a school, even if you don't see children on the school grounds.
- Always obey school zone speed limits.
- Never use your cellphone while driving near a school.
- If you drop off children at school, don't make them cross the street.
- Never pass a school bus if the bus has extended its stop sign.
Tips for students (and their parents):
- Cross the street at crosswalks.
- Look both ways before crossing the street.
- Don't look at the screen of an electronic device while walking.
- Take off your headset before you cross the street so you can listen for traffic.
- If school crossing guards are present, obey their instructions.
It's up to drivers, students, and their parents to assure that school zones are safe places. Car accident lawyers help victims of school zone accidents, but we would prefer to see drivers and students exercise caution to avoid becoming a school zone accident statistic.