Keeping kids safe when ‘school zones’ become ‘danger zones’

School bus | Photo by StevenKriemadis, Getty Images, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —  More than 850,000 school-age children live in Utah, and police are reminding motorists to slow down and take it easy in school zones near crosswalks and school bus stops in an effort to keep students safe as the school year begins.

Many drivers found themselves maneuvering around school zones this week as the hectic “back to school” season was ushered in across Washington County, with many children walking, biking or catching a bus.

Additionally, many of these children are attending school for the first time and are in unfamiliar surroundings, and it may take them a few weeks to adjust to changes.

Two new elementary schools recently opened, as well. Legacy Elementary opened in March and is located at 280 East 100 South, replacing East Elementary that was located on 600 East; and Majestic Fields Elementary located at 675 E. Majestic Drive in Washington opened its newly installed doors for students this week.

It can also be a dangerous time for all students.

In the United States, more than 800 students are killed annually, and another 152,000 are injured during regular travel between school and home, according to HealthyChildren.org.

Motorists should pay special attention as they drive in or near residential areas and school zones and share the road safely with school buses and child pedestrians by following traffic laws.

The St. George Police Department wants to make sure students get to and from school safely, and police officers are reminding drivers and students to obey traffic signs and speed limits, especially near schools and crosswalks. Officer Lona Trombley, Public Information Officer for the St. George Police Department has posted a video with safety tips and warnings to drivers on the department’s Facebook page.

“Don’t drive distracted or block sidewalks or crosswalks,” Trombley told St. George News on Thursday.

There is a direct correlation between speed and an increased rate of pedestrian fatalities, so it is important that drivers adhere to the posted speed limits to avoid the tragic loss of life in school zones. Recent studies indicate that as many as two-thirds of drivers speed in school zones, according to the National Safe Routes to School Program.

Speeding in a school zone can have devastating consequences, and for young children, it can be particularly deadly. The perceptual abilities of children are slow to develop, making them less adept at making calculations that are critical when crossing the street, according to a 2012 study conducted at the University of London.

One of these crucial calculations refers to the child’s ability to determine the speed of approaching cars. Young children are three times as likely to get hit by a car when traffic speed exceeds 25 mph, according to the study.

Not only do drivers need more reaction time to stop their vehicles when they are traveling at higher speeds, but the research suggests that young pedestrians simply can’t see the cars coming in the first place.

Crosswalks play a vital role in pedestrian safety. There are marked crosswalks, such as the one near Little Valley Elementary, but sometimes a crosswalk is not as clearly defined. Information provided in the Utah Traffic Code – Chapter 41 can help clarify and explain the role of crosswalks. Additionally, speed limits at crosswalks are 20 mph or under.

“Do not enter the crosswalk while the crossing guard is in the roadway or has raised their stop sign to enter the roadway,” Trombley said.

Safe Kids Worldwide conducted a study in 2016 that observed 39,000 high school and middle school-aged children, along with 56,000 drivers in school zones, and found that 80 percent of students were observed crossing the street unsafely, and more than 30 percent of drivers were observed using unsafe drop-off or pick-up procedures.

The study also found that one in four high school students and one in six middle school students were observed walking while distracted, which is on the rise. Teen pedestrian deaths are also on the rise, with 5 teens killed every week in the U.S., which is a 13 percent increase since 2013.

Of all the vehicles that travel on the nation’s highways, none are safer than the school bus, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, school buses present risks of their own, including the “Danger Zone,” which is when students are getting on and off the bus, accounting for approximately three times as many school bus-related deaths as the ride itself does.

Most children injured in bus-related crashes are pedestrians hit by the bus or by motorists illegally passing a stopped school bus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tips for drivers; bus safety tips

  •  It is illegal to pass a school bus that is stopped to load/unload children.
  • Yellow flashing lights on a bus signal it is preparing to stop to load/unload children.
  • Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm on a bus signal the bus is stopped and children are getting on/off the bus.
  • Traffic behind the school bus traveling in the same direction must stop.
  • On a two-lane road, following and oncoming traffic must stop and remain stopped while the red lights on the bus are flashing and/or the stop arm is extended.
  • Pedestrians have the right-of-way at all intersections.
  • When you stop at a red light or are waiting to make a turn, don’t block the crosswalk.
  • Speed limits at crosswalks and school zones are 20 mph.

Tips for students

  • Obey pedestrian-control devices unless otherwise directed by a police officer or crossing guard.
  • Do not cross a roadway intersection diagonally.
  • Use the right side of the sidewalk when passing others.
  • Cross only on a marked crosswalk.
  • Yield to the right-of-way of all vehicles in the roadway when not in a marked crosswalk.
  • Walk along the shoulder of the left side of the road facing the direction of oncoming traffic when no sidewalk is present.

Additional resources are available to students and motorists.

One such program is the Safe Routes To School program that supports crossing improvements and educational programs that promote safe walking and bicycling to and from elementary, middle and junior high schools.

Trombley recommended the Student Neighborhood Access Program, also known as SNAP, which is a fun and comprehensive program for walking and biking safely to school that engages and educates students, parents, school administrators, crossing guards and communities.

Email: cblowers@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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2 Comments

  • utahdiablo August 17, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    Here’s a “Tip” for the City and State….you need to put in speed bumps near schools , that will keep traffic at 25 mph….but nope, you won’t do it until enough kids get injured or killed

  • Icomments2 August 17, 2017 at 9:51 pm

    Where my child goes to school there isn’t even a sign to show there is a school anywhere around. Absolutely no crosswalk signs no school zones nothing!!! And the school district won’t do anything about it!!! But then again I live in Washington Fields where every school that can’t be seen has signs and lights but ours!!! I live right down the street from the school and everyday at 3:00 it starts… The speeding teenagers and the speeding parents!!! And every single parent runs every stop sign too!!! Its been a damn miracle someone’s child hasn’t been injured or killed!!! Oh what school is it??? Its Horizon Elementary school but you’ll have to use your GPS to find it and even then good luck cuz remember there are no signs telling you where the school is!!! It is a very good school maybe I should keep it a secret!!!

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