Being cautious in school zones

·3 min read

Children rush to get to and from school; busses are pulling in and out of the parking lots, and amongst that are the parents waiting or driving by looking for parking spots. If that's not chaotic enough, add in the everyday traffic that also occurs during these hours, and you definitely have a bustling area.

As a motorist, the onus is on the driver to be extra cautious of their surroundings, especially in the school zones. No matter how much children are taught to look both ways before crossing the street, it doesn’t always happen as they can easily be distracted. Perhaps they are late for school and run across the road or excited to see their parents and forget to look both ways before crossing the street. We can’t guarantee children will always do the right thing when it comes to traffic safety, which is why, as a motorist, safety falls with the driver of the vehicle to be alert and aware.

In a one-week time frame, two near-misses occurred involving school children nearly being hit by vehicles. One occurred in Whitecourt and the other in Fox Creek. This is two near-misses too many for any parent. In both cases, the drivers did not notice children crossing the roadway and narrowly missed hitting the child. Only one or two more seconds would have changed a happy outcome to one that no one would want to go through. Although separate towns and schools, prompt action was taken in hopes of preventing future near-misses. In Fox Creek, town administration and the peace officer have collaborated to get additional signage placed along the roadway indicating school zones and monitor traffic speeds during busy times. As for Whitecourt, the school and parents stepped forward to steer vehicles away from the congested areas around the school and enforce the use of other various drop-off and pick-up points.

Due to the masses of children scattered about in the school zones and their unpredictable movements, school zones are set legally to 30 km/hr and with good reason. According to test driving statistics, pedestrians have a 90 percent chance of surviving an impact at 30km/hr or less. A child struck by a car travelling at 50 km/hr is eight times more likely to be killed than a child struck by a vehicle doing the posted school zone speeds. When it comes to children being hit by a vehicle, their age and size will also play a huge factor in injury severity. Children 10 years of age and younger can suffer the greatest injury due to the bumper's height on impact.

A poll completed in 2019 by the Canadian Automobile Association shows some startling numbers concerning vehicles and pedestrians. Nearly one-quarter of drivers report witnessing a near miss or collision in a school zone, more than half of which involved a child. Nearly half of Canadians also say they’ve witnessed a distracted driver in a school zone. The study further reveals that six in ten Canadians say there are more unsafe driving practices in school zones today than in previous years. Also, 70 percent have witnessed vehicles speeding in school zones, increasing from the same study done three years prior. When it comes to driving behaviours in school zones, the top three reported issues seen have been speeding, illegal parking/stopping and distracted driving.

Lives are precious, more so children’s lives. In the time it takes to look at your phone screen to see who’s calling or pick up something off the floor, that’s the few seconds it takes to change everyone’s lives forever, and ones you will never get back.

Vicki Winger, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press