Bicycle and pedestrian lanes, playgrounds, yellow buses and classrooms return to life this fall as children from Port Hill to Fort Hall make the annual pilgrimage back to school.
Motorists who have grown accustomed to sailing undeterred through school zones the past three months need to renew their vigilance around schools. They need to watch for inattentive children stepping from curbs, meandering bicycles straying into the traffic lane and buses stopped for student loading and unloading.
At the same time, children who have enjoyed a carefree summer vacation, need to be equally cautious of traffic on their march to school… anticipating commuters who take schools, flashing yellow lights and their presence for granted.
Awareness and anticipation are keys to ensuring the next nine months are free of casualties and enabling children and vehicles to coexist safely.
The Idaho Transportation Department joins public and private partners statewide in urging motorists to use caution in areas where children are likely to be present, both during school hours and school commute times.
To reduce the risk children face on their journey to and from school, ITD has created an ambitious Safe Routes to School (SR2S) program. It provides grant funds for infrastructure improvements and educational programs to local school districts, cities, counties and highway districts. Idaho First Lady Lori Otter joined ITD officials, school officials and children last spring to formally kickoff the SR2S program.
Nearly $1.5 million was awarded earlier this year under the ITD-administered program, said Josephine O’Connor, coordinator of Safe Routes to Schools.
Many improvements to bicycle and pedestrian paths, crosswalks and crossing signs already have been completed. Others are in the process. Educational programs also are being designed to prepare children for safe travel to schools.
“This is always an exciting time of year for children. School shopping is done and kids are anxious to get back together with classmates they haven’t seen since spring,” O’Connor explains. “Too often, they are preoccupied by that excitement, and the last things on their minds are the hazards associated with traffic.
“Children tend to act impulsively, often are less aware of their surroundings and are easily distracted,” O’Connor adds. “That can be a dangerous combination. Our best advice, for motorists and children alike, is to slow down and be aware of your surroundings. Drivers should look for distracted children, and children should watch for distracted drivers.
“Children assume that if they can see a car, its driver can see them, and that is not always the case. They also believe that drivers can stop with little or no warning; that’s not the case either.”
Idaho made major strides in reducing the instances of pedestrian-related crashes involving school-age children in 2006. Injuries and fatalities declined by nearly 49 percent – from 76 in 2004 to 39 last year – the lowest incident rate in at least five years. Nearly one-quarter of the pedestrians injured or killed in 2005 (22 percent), were between the ages of 4 and 14. Last year, the school-age group accounted for just 16.5 percent of the total collisions involving pedestrians.
The number of children between the ages of 4 and 14 involved in bicycle-automobile collisions declined by 8.3 percent from 2005 to last year (from 109 to 100).
Recognizing the need for improved safety, the 2005 Idaho Legislature increased the mandatory fine for motorists caught speeding in designated school zones. Most school zones are clearly marked with signs and flashing lights that are activated during school commute periods. Violations carry maximum fines of nearly $140.
Safety also extends to the highways where motorists encounter school buses in the mornings and afternoons.
Drivers must stop when approaching a school bus that is stopped to pick up or deliver school children if the bus displays flashing red signals.
On a two-lane road, following and oncoming traffic must stop and remain stopped as long as the red lights are flashing and/or the stop arm on the left side of the bus is extended.
On a highway with two or more lanes of traffic traveling in each direction, oncoming traffic is not required to stop when meeting a school bus. However, motorists still are urged to watch for children crossing traffic lanes while on their way to or from the bus.
Drivers also should use caution when traveling through school zones or near routes used by children and should observe school speed limits and the instructions of crossing guards.
Other suggestions to make the school year safer for children and motorists: