From fall to spring, millions of children are on the streets every day making their way to and from school. They walk, bike, ride the school bus, or are driven by parents. When hundreds converge on one building—or sometimes a complex of buildings—the traffic can be a nightmare and the risks to kids can be numerous.
Ideally, every school would have one loading zone for buses and another for cars. Bike racks would be located in an area that allows safe and easy access. The parking lot would be designed to allow cars to enter without crossing paths with students who walk or bike. In reality, many schools are cramped for space and are located in high-traffic areas. Separating all these vehicles and children can be a real challenge.
We've already discussed in Teaching Kids to Navigate Streets, Buying the Right Bike for Your Child, and Bike Helmets: Buying Them, Using Them what you can do at home to make your kids street smart. But what about your school? What can it do?
Form a Committee
Safety measures can take a variety of forms, everything from stepped-up traffic enforcement to in-class education on such topics as school bus safety rules. Your school already may be using some of these effectively. Many schools have adult crossing guards and school safety patrols, for example. Still, there probably are traffic situations that could use improvement. To get a comprehensive look at the issues, your school could do a safety audit with the help of a school safety committee that includes staff, parents, police, and someone from your community's traffic engineering department.
The engineer can look at signs, traffic lights, street markings, and other features of the streets around your school and make recommendations on additional traffic control measures that might be needed, for example.
The American Automobile Association has materials for parents and school staff on working together to make the school trip safer. To get information for your school, check your phone book for the number of the chapter near you.
Safest Route Maps
One project of the school safety committee should be preparing maps that show the safest routes to school. The maps would indicate, for example, which intersections have crossing guards and therefore are the best places for children to cross. The maps should be big enough to incorporate the entire enrollment area. That way parents can plan the entire route for their children to follow, either to school or to the bus stop.
Once you pick a route, walk it with your child and point out any hazards he should watch for. You also may notice places where you might need to modify the route, because of large bushes that obstruct the view of an intersection, for example.
The safest route for your walker to take may not be the same one your child should use to bike to school. The walker could be safer on a route with intersections where there are traffic lights, but the biker might be better off on streets with less traffic.
The Problem with Parents
Many of the traffic problems around schools are caused by parents. Some ignore the pick-up zones, double park, or block the buses. One dangerous, and all too common, practice is dropping children off on the wrong side of the street and jaywalking with them mid-block. Traffic troubles usually are worse in bad weather, as more parents drive their kids and everyone tries to take shortcuts to hurry into the building without getting wet.
Schools can alleviate congestion by taking such steps as staggering the dismissal of walkers and riders, having them exit on different sides of the building, and creating more pick-up-lane space if possible.
Traffic rule violations put kids in danger. If this is a problem at your school, talk to the parent-teacher association or the school staff—both about ways to ease congestion and to enforce the rules.