“Hang up the phone, especially in a school zone!”
That reminder comes as schools across Idaho resume for another year. Jo O’Connor, Safe Routes to School coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department, urges motorists to focus on driving and children around school zones, not on cell phones and text messaging.
One out of every six drivers in school zones behaves like a drunk driver, according to a new report from Safe Kids USA. That’s because the leading cause of distraction in school zones is talking, dialing or texting on a cell phone. Using a phone while driving poses a similar risk to that of a drunk driver according to the report.
Drivers are expected to be on their best behavior in school zones, but the Safe Kids report says the opposite is true. Safe Kids researchers observed more than 40,000 drivers in school zones at arrival and departure time. Afternoon drivers, unbelted drivers and drivers travelling in high volume traffic were more likely to be distracted, and females were 21 percent more likely to be distracted than males.
The study also quotes research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that estimates drivers are at six times greater risk of crashing when talking on a cell phone, and at 23 times greater risk when texting. Cell phone use while driving increased to 9.8 percent in 2008, up from 7.3 percent the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
O’Connor recommends that students who live within walking distance be encouraged to walk, bike or skate to school to help increase safety for everyone.
“This study shows that distracted drivers within the school zone are putting kids at risk, particularly at pick-up and drop-off times,” O’Connor says. “Parents who choose not to drive help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and help make it safer for the kids who want to walk or bike to school.”
Parents driving children to school contribute to 25 percent of morning traffic congestion according to NHTSA.
“Teaching kids the skills they need to get to school safely will help them be more independent; it helps them build life-long habits of being physically active; and it helps children become more aware of their environment,” O’Connor adds.
Students who are more physically active do better at school and have fewer discipline problems according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. Walking and biking to school is becoming a more popular choice for Idaho students. Participation in International Walk to School Day was up 30 percent last year. This year’s walk to school event in Idaho is planned for Oct. 7. The following tips will help children get to school and back home safely:
Walking to school:
Motorists are urged to remember: