Lakeville Area Public Schools will be back for a new school year starting September 5. With the influx of school-related traffic, drivers and pedestrians alike need to keep safety as the #1 priority. The increase in traffic is unavoidable, but incidents are not. Here are a few reminders for anyone who may be impacted by the back-to-school bustling commute.
For parents of children who walk or bike to school, the National Center for Safe Routes to School recommends the “walking school bus” method. The walking school bus is a group of children walking to school with one or more adults. It can be as informal as two families alternating walking the kids to school or providing some kind of supervision. As the school year begins, consider discussing commute options with neighbors or the parents of classmates to plan for a group-commute strategy.
The walking school bus has perks for everyone involved; everyone gets some physical activity in at the start of the day, kids forge social connections, and parents connect with other families and classmates.
The most common incidents involving student pedestrians occur outside of marked crosswalks and intersections. One contributing factor is student departure from school buses. In Minnesota, school buses are equipped with yellow and red flashing lights to denote to other drivers what the bus is about to do. Flashing yellow lights will be activated at least 100 feet before a school bus stops in a speed zone of 35 mph or less, and at least 300 feet before it stops in a speed zone of more than 35 mph. It is against the law to pass on the right side of a school bus while it is displaying red or yellow flashing lights.
Flashing red lights warn motorists that the school bus is loading or unloading students. When a school bus is stopped with its red lights flashing and its stop arm extended, you must stop your vehicle at least 20 feet from the bus. Oncoming traffic and motorists approaching the bus from behind may not move until the stop arm is retracted and the red lights are no longer flashing. You can be charged with a misdemeanor if you break either of these laws. The penalty for this violation is a fine of not less than $300, and suspension of your driving privileges.
When students must cross high speed roads and hectic intersections, it can make walking or biking to school more dangerous and less enjoyable for students. According to the Public Health Law Center, students are far less likely to be allowed to walk or bike to school and may have to be driven across a dangerous intersection even if the student just lives across the street from his or her school. This risk level is the reason for school-zone speed limits and other traffic restrictions.
A motor vehicle traveling at 50 mph requires 424 feet to come to a complete stop, while a vehicle traveling at 25 mph requires only 152 feet. Reduced speed limits in school zones allow drivers and pedestrians to have more time and space to maneuver in a heavily-trafficked area. Fatalities for pedestrians/bicyclists hit by vehicles are 80% less likely if a car is going 20 mph as opposed to 40 mph (National Center for Safe Routes to School).