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As summer winds down, students across the country are getting ready to go back to school. But whether your child gets to school via the bus, biking, walking or carpooling, it’s important to be aware of traffic risks. School zones can get congested and hectic during drop-off and pick-up, which increases the risk of an accident.

Sadly, there were more than 1,000 fatal school-transportation-related crashes between 2011 and 2020, with an average of 113 fatalities per year. Some studies have found that as many as 40 students are hit by a vehicle while walking each day, resulting in more than 15,000 injuries on an annual basis.

In many cases, school zone crashes are preventable. For parents who drive their kids to school, following posted speed limits, being aware of your surroundings and staying off your cell phone can reduce the risk of a collision. If your kids walk or bike to school, it’s important to educate them on how to stay safe while traveling to school alone.

If you are preparing to send your kids back to the classroom, understanding traffic safety can help keep your child and other students out of harm’s way. In this guide, we will share some back to school traffic safety statistics, provide a few tips for driving safely in school zones and explain how you can do your part to keep kids safe during school drop-off and pick-up.

Back to school traffic & safety statistics

While you might assume that drivers use extra caution while driving through school zones, that’s not always the case. School zone accidents are not uncommon and unsafe driving in school zones results in hundreds of collisions and injuries each year. Here are some statistics on school zone accidents, school bus collisions and general traffic risks during the school year:

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  • Students are roughly 70 times more likely to get to school safely while taking the school bus instead of getting to school in a passenger car. (NHTSA)
  • An estimated 152,000 school-age children are injured during normal school travel hours each year. Roughly 80% of those injuries occur in passenger vehicles, while only 4% are school-bus related. (Tapco)
  • An estimated 55% of school-aged children deaths in the U.S. occur when a teenager is driving. (Tapco)
  • A joint study from Safe Kids Worldwide and FedEx found that crosswalks were missing in 3 out of 10 school zones. It was also discovered that only 4 in 10 school zones had posted speed limits of 20 mph or below. (Safe Kids Worldwide)
  • Each week in the U.S., there are five teen pedestrian deaths. (Safe Kids Worldwide)
  • Since 2013, there have been 13% more pedestrian deaths among kids between the ages of 12-19. (Safe Kids Worldwide)
  • Pedestrian deaths have dropped significantly, but rates vary based on age. Fatality rates in children under age 12 have decreased by 74% since 1995. However, fatality rates in kids between the ages of 12-19 have only dropped 37% during that time. (Safe Kids Worldwide)
  • In an observation of 39,000 middle and high school students, it was found that 1 in 4 high school students walked while distracted. 31% of students walked while looking at their phones and 44% walked while listening to music. (Safe Kids Worldwide)
  • Between 2011-2020, there were 113 individuals killed in school transportation vehicles. 70% of the people killed were occupants of other vehicles involved in the crash. (NHTSA)
  • More than half of the school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation vehicle crashes from 2011-2020 were between 5-10 years old. (NHTSA)

How to drive safely in a school zone

Driving with caution through a school zone keeps everyone safe. But many people are not aware that certain traffic violations in a school zone can have more serious consequences. Here are some of the things that could occur if you get caught driving unsafely in a school zone:

  • Speeding ticket: School zones usually have specific speed limits, often 25 mph or less. If you get a ticket for speeding in a school zone, the fine might be higher than the fine for a ticket in a non-school zone. Keep in mind that speeding tickets will impact your car insurance premium. When your policy renews, you can expect to see an increased premium until the ticket is removed from your record.
  • Parking tickets: If you park your vehicle in a crosswalk, bike lane or school bus drop-off area, you might get a parking ticket. While parking tickets don’t affect car insurance rates, they can be expensive. Only park your vehicle in a designated parking area to avoid getting a ticket.
  • Distracted driving citation: If you are using your cellphone while driving in a school zone, you can get a ticket for distracted driving. Be aware of the texting/talking and driving laws in your area, and avoid using your cellphone in a school zone for the safety of others.

School bus laws and safety by state

Every state has unique laws around passing school buses on the road and giving the right of way to school buses carrying children. In almost every state, drivers are legally required to stop

stopped school buses, whether they are in the same lane or opposing lane. Most school buses have flashing lights or an extended stop sign to indicate when drivers must stop until the kids have safely unloaded.

However, there are a handful of states that have different laws. For example, in Ohio, drivers are only required to stop for a school bus when the roadway has four or more lanes. As a result of different laws in different states, many drivers may not be aware of the specific school bus safety laws in their state, which can increase the risk of an accident. In the map below, we’ve gathered up links to the school bus laws in all 50 states, click on your state to review those in your area.

Unsafe behaviors during pick up and drop off

Dropping off and picking up your kids from school becomes second nature, but these are the times when accidents are most likely to occur. Here are some of the most common situations that can lead to school zone collisions involving children.

  • Using your cellphone: According to a study from Safe Kids Worldwide, more than 1 in 10 drivers were distracted by their cell phone during school drop off or pick up. Drivers at smaller, less densely populated schools had greater instances of distracted driving.
  • Speeding in a school zone: Speeding in school zones can increase the risk of a collision with a pedestrian, cyclist or other vehicle. The study from Safe Kids Worldwide found that only 4 in 10 school zones had speed limits below 20 mph.
  • Blocking crosswalks: Blocking crosswalks to drop off a student at school can have serious consequences. It limits visibility and other drivers may not see a student who tries to cross in front or behind a vehicle that is blocking the crosswalk.
  • Unloading kids across the street: When you drop off children at school, the safest place to let them out of the car is in the school parking lot, or on the same side of the street as the school’s entrance. Dropping kids off on the opposite side of the street can increase the chance of a pedestrian collision.
  • Stopping too close behind a bus: If you are driving behind a school bus, it’s important to stop at least 10 ft behind the vehicle. Kids may get off the bus and run around the back without realizing that there are other vehicles coming up behind the bus.
  • Not yielding to cyclists: Drivers need to practice extra caution when approaching a cyclist. If you come up on a cyclist, only pass when it’s safe and give the rider at least three feet of space. Always wait for the rider to pass when you are preparing to turn and slow down to signal their right of way.
  • Check your side mirrors: If you or your children are getting out of the vehicle during drop off, check your side mirrors to make sure it’s safe before opening the door. You could accidentally hit a pedestrian or cyclist who may be close to the vehicle.

Being mindful of pedestrians in school zones

When you are driving in a school zone, it’s essential to be aware of your surroundings. Children are being dropped off, students and teachers are walking across the street and through parking lots and cyclists are using bike lanes and maneuvering around cars.

When you drive distracted, it’s easy to drive through crosswalks without stopping to look for pedestrians or cyclists. Remember that not all crosswalks are illuminated, and not every school zone has a dedicated crossing guard. It’s the responsibility of each driver to stay vigilant, drive slowly and focus 100% of their attention on driving cautiously when near a school during peak hours.

In general, the best way to stay alert in school zones is to reduce distractions. That means putting down your phone, avoiding eating and drinking, turning down your radio and taking out headphones. Whenever possible, plan your work calls or meals for after you have safely dropped off or picked up your kids from school, and are no longer in the car.

In addition, having multiple kids in your car during carpool can pose a distraction. If you find yourself in this situation, try to find a quiet activity for the kids to do while you drive. It may also be a good opportunity to educate them on the importance of being safe while walking or riding a bike to school.

Resources

The number of student pedestrian and cyclist accidents can be reduced if drivers take the appropriate precautions. Here are a few resources that provide tips for keeping everyone safe while driving, walking or biking in a school zone:

  • Slow Down: Back to School Means Sharing the Road (NSC)
  • Alarming Dangers in School Zones (Safe Kids Worldwide)
  • Back to School: Keeping Children Safe (NHTSA)
  • Back-To-School Safe Driving Tips (Geico)
  • Back to School Safety Tips for Parents & Drivers (AAA)