Back To School: 7 Ways To Make School Zones Safer For Students & Pedestrians

school zone safety traffic safety tips school zones students pedestrian school zone safety

The Current State Of School Zone Safety

A recent study by Safe Kids Worldwide shows alarming trends when it comes to the safety of students traveling to school. As of 2015, about five pedestrians died in school zones each week.

While the United States has seen the deaths of schools zones has decreased over the past 20 years, many experts are concerned that distraction and other forms of crossing behavior post additional risks for students traveling in school zones.

As more students engage with their smartphones and other media as they travel through school zones, there are increasing the risk of incidents involving pedestrians. However, pedestrian distraction is not the only concern because many school zones are not optimized for safety in mind.

There are some distinct ways to improve school zones, from clearly marking crosswalks, warning drivers of school zones, and enforcing rules in drop-off and pick-up zones.

school zone safety warning systems prevent pedestrian injuries
Source: http://www.xwalk.com/pages/zone.htm

As school officials and local politicians continue to make school zones safer for students, some solutions are easy and relatively inexpensive that can help make school zones safer for students. Let’s take a look at some of the best strategies to implement in these areas to keep the future of education bright!

All School Zone Traffic Signs Are Visible to the Public

Pavement markings and school zone traffic signs play a significant role in improving everyone’s safety because it provides necessary information to motorists whenever they are in the area. Not only do clear crosswalks and pavement markings help warn drivers of upcoming threats, but they also help direct pedestrians to engage with public roads in a safe manner.

school zone safety pavement markings make school zones safer tips
Source: https://www.geveko-markings.us/optamark/

To support that, the 2009 MUTCD, PART 7, explains everything about the rules and regulations for managing traffic within the school premises.

The rules and standards set by the MUTCD talk about the appropriate design, maintenance, and application regarding all safety devices. This includes marking, signs, and signals together with other controls needed to ensure the safety within the school zone.

While this authoritative guide outlines general rules about roadway control criteria, local jurisdictions and states could also add additional guidance if they deem necessary. This means that while public oversight from MUTCD regulates school zones, local politicians and city leaders can implement roadway control parameters that are even more strict.

Some jurisdictions implement the use of school signs in a different manner than the standardize sizing advised by the MUTCD, and there are those that allow the use of different kinds of road markings based on the condition of the area.

This is a vital piece of school zone safety since each region have their unique concerns, and each school zone should be optimized to ensure the best interest of student pedestrians and drivers in the area.

One of the most detailed pieces of 2009 MUTCD, PART 7 are the requirements for school zone traffic signs and other markings on public roads. No matter how local regulators implement the safety points required, it is essential that they adhere to the standards set by the MUTCD or the local state laws that are in line with the MUTCD.

As these signs are placed, school zone planners must be sure not to overuse the signs as improper use may contribute to drivers not following them, or the overuse can also cause accidents once they turn out to be visual clutter instead of helpful guides, especially when there’s traffic.

Speed Limit Signs Within School Premises

Speed is one of the most influential aspects that leads to pedestrian injury and death. While higher rates don’t tend to increase the number of accidents, incidents involving pedestrians are much more severe at higher speeds.

Traffic signs are vital because they serve as a warning sign when vehicles are entering the zone, and slowing down is necessary to protect the school children crossing the street.

These MUTCD guidelines should be followed in all school areas and particular zones for noticeable school crossing or specific distance within the corner of the school premises.

school zone safety speed limit signs
Source: http://www.govtech.com/dc/articles/New-Orleans-is-Installing-More-Traffic-Cameras-But-Will-They-Make-the-Streets-Safer.html

While allowed speed limits in school zones vary from state to state, the typical range goes around 15-25 mph. Traffic signs are a great way to inform drivers of speeds in a given areas, but speed signs should not be overused because drivers can develop “Sign Blindness” if they see the same sign too often.

On streets with high traffic, flasher speed limits are widely used. This various integrates a brightly lit speed limit sign instead of the static sign with the speed limit painted on the sign.

Since the lit speed limit sign are meant to slow drivers, these devices should only be used during active school hours. Since they are only used during specific times of the day, commuters who travel through the area regularly will have a heightened level of attention, and this can increase the safety of the school zone environment.

Overhead Flasher Speed Limit Traffic Sign

While standard speed limit signs are a practical solution to inform drivers of school zone speed limits, an overhead flasher can be installed on the signs to increase visibility.

school zone overhead flashers school zone safety improvement tips
Source: http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/engineering/the_school_zone.cfm

Not only are these flashers a great way to grab the attention of drivers, but they also improve the overall effectiveness of speed signs during incremental weather and overcast climates.

Installing overhead flashers on speed limit traffic signs are preferred to side mounted flashers. This is because the flasher will draw the attention of drivers to the speed limit sign and reduces the chance that drivers will be distracted by other elements in the environment.

Ideally, these should be placed at locations where drivers are having a hard time distinguishing the marked crosswalks because of topography or similar traffic barriers.

The flashers create an additional alert for drivers, and the increased visibility means that more drivers will be aware of upcoming crosswalks or change traffic speeds.

Speed Feedback Sign

A proven method to reduce speed in a particular area is to place a feedback speed sign in a school zone. This type of speed control sign provides real-time feedback to help drivers know if they are exceeding the speed limit in the immediate area.

speed feedback sign for school zone safety improvement tips
Source: https://stinson.ca/home/electronic-traffic-controls/radar-feedback-signs/pole-mount-radar-speed-signs.html

Feedback speed limit signs can also be customized to include a flashing indicator if drivers exceed the posted speed limit.

Since the feedback signs are only reminders to drivers, these signs should always be positioned near standard traffic signs, so the message of obeying the posted speed limit is reinforced in the minds of drivers passing through the stretch of road.

Along with alerting drivers to their actual speed and alerting drivers if they exceed the posted speed limits, these signs can also keep track of traffic density, the rate that drivers tend to reach, and other helpful information.

All of this data can be transmitted to a personal PDA or another device so local policymakers, school administrators, and community groups can determine if additional resources should be applied to a given area near a school zone to ensure the safety of pedestrians and drivers.

Advanced Warning and Crosswalk Signs

Traffic signs are the best early warning systems that school zones can use to alter the behavior of drivers and direct pedestrians to interact with public roads safely. However, to ensure the overall safety of school zones, using warning signs with crosswalk signs is always advised.

school zone safety tips advanced crosswalk signs student safety tips
Source: http://www.pedbikesafe.org/PEDSAFE/countermeasures_detail.cfm?CM_NUM=56

The MUTCD even requires the use of these signs in the progression of, as well as at the school crossings. The utilization of high-visibility yellow, the green color sheeting is also recommended.

These warning signs should be utilized before the first crosswalk sign found in the direction of the traffic. Likewise, it shouldn’t be used at crossings, unless it’s within the schools and on established routes.

School zones will receive the best results if this pair of safety signs are placed near intersections deemed dangerous.

School administrators and policymakers must work together to gather data to determine which intersections would benefit most from these symptoms since the cost to construct and maintain can be a significant price point.

Using Traffic Control Devices as Needed

Adequately designed traffic devices are essential within the school zone as they encourage good behavior for both the pedestrian and motorist within the school zone. Not only do these signs help make traffic more efficient, but they also make the environment safer for students, pedestrians, and motorists.

Traffic calming measures should be followed, and this includes:

These should all be placed together depending on the various needs of your school zones. Different sections of school zones demand various traffic calming devices.

The safety of school zones can be improved through the use of curb ramps, accessible sidewalks and pathways, and available pedestrian signals. Not only will students and pedestrians benefit from this, but even those with disabilities as well.

Enforcing School Zone Safety Rules

It doesn’t matter how conventional engineering solutions are, they wouldn’t work without proper application and enforcement of laws. That’s why crossing guards should be stationed in school zones as they will help the pedestrians and motorists during traffic hours.

school zone safety crossing guards
Source: https://www.ticketsnipers.com/ticket/cvc-2815-failure-to-obey-school-crossing-guard

Crossing guards should always wear traffic safety vests to ensure their safety and grab the attention of drivers. Not only will this safety gear help the traffic guards help students cross the street, but they will also help keep drivers accountable to abiding by posted traffic regulations. 

Lastly, the use of portable driver feedback signs together with the guidance of crossing guards are a great way to provide visual enforcement especially to children crossing the street.

Implementing Safety Plans For School Zones

As city populations continue to increase along the side of more drives on public roads, school administrators and local politicians must work together to implement traffic control strategies to preserve the safety of students, pedestrians, and drivers.

To help prevent pedestrian injuries, school zones should be designed and enforced to maintain controlled interactions between pedestrians and motorists. If school zones are outfitted with traffic signs, traffic control devices, and enforcement methods approved by MUTCD, cities can continue to ensure the safe and efficient process in school zones in the future!

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Author: Chris Giarratana

Chris is a Digital Media Strategy and AdWords management consultant in Orlando, FL. He develops marketing strategies for small businesses, researches emerging technologies, and enjoys studying transportation issues.

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