Children’s safety in school zones depends on you!
As a parent, a school resource officer, a deputy sheriff, and your state representative, the safety and well-being of our children is extremely important to me, as I know it is for everyone in our community. Now that summer is rapidly coming to an end and classes at our local school districts are back in session, I wanted to remind everyone — motorists, parents and children — about the importance of practicing good traffic safety habits in school zones.
In Washington, the speed limit in school zones is 20 miles per hour – no greater. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission says a pedestrian struck by a vehicle at 20 miles per hour or less has an 80 percent survival rate. If a car is going 27 miles an hour or higher, there's an 80 percent chance of a fatality if a child is struck by the vehicle.
Also, consider this: School zones, as defined in statute, are 600 feet long. A motorist traveling at 28 miles per hour in a school zone saves only six seconds. Is that worth potentially taking the life of a child?
Since school has been out for the past three months, it may be easy for motorists to get out of the habit of watching for children in and even outside of school zones. However, hundreds of students are now walking to school or to their bus stops. Shorter daylight hours are soon approaching, and that makes it especially difficult for drivers to see young pedestrians and bicyclists. Many young people under the age of 13 (and many elderly drivers) have greater difficulty judging distances. As a result, children are at a higher risk of being injured in pedestrian accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that a traffic crash kills a pedestrian every 113 minutes. One-fifth of all such traffic fatalities involve a pedestrian age 9 or younger. Many times these tragedies could have been avoided with only a few extra precautions.
To ensure the safety of our children, here are some important safety tips:
Motorists: Slow down, especially in a school zone. Obey all traffic laws and speed limits. Be alert. Watch for children walking in the street and gathering near bus stops. When backing out of a driveway, watch for children walking or biking to school. Also, watch for children arriving late for the bus, who may dart into the street without looking for traffic.
Children are short. This makes it difficult for motorists to see them. Children often think that if they see the driver, the driver sees them — and can stop instantly. Children also have underdeveloped peripheral vision. A child won't see a motorist approaching from the right or left as soon as an adult will. That's why it is so important to watch for young people who may be in a hurry to get to school and not thinking about their own safety.
Parents: Help your children learn and practice safety rules for walking, bicycling or riding in a school bus. Remember, children are not small adults. They don't have the skills to handle traffic-related environments. Supervise them when they walk or bike to school or as they wait at the school bus stop. Children rely on adults for safety. A child versus a car is an unfair fight that the child always loses.
Children: Learn and practice safety rules for pedestrians. Always cross at crosswalks, obey all traffic signs, stoplights and safety patrol instructions. When crossing a street, always look LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT for traffic in all directions. Cross only when it is clear, and keep looking for cars as you cross. If you ride a school bus, learn and practice the safety rules for waiting at the bus stop, getting on and off the bus, and riding the bus.
In 1996, the Legislature passed a law that doubles the fines in school zones, just as fines had been doubled earlier in construction zones. The law came about after two mothers of school children in Yakima voiced their concerns about significant speed limit violations in school crosswalks and playground areas. Washington has used half of the fines to provide improved school zone signs, pavement flashers, increased tools to help police enforce school speed limits, and a campaign to educate motorists about school zone laws.
A ticket within a school zone will cost you anywhere from $189 to $784, depending on how fast over the limit you are driving. The fine cannot be waived, suspended or reduced. It may be a high price to pay. However, a higher price is the injury or death of a child — and the life-long guilt accompanied with the responsibility for the accident.
No parent should ever have to endure the heartbreak of losing a child, especially when it can be prevented. Children trust us to do the right thing for them. We trust the laws to protect our children. However, for our laws to work, we must adhere to them. Now that school is back in session, please make sure you practice these important safety tips. Remember, the safety of the children in our community depends on you!
Editor's note: Rep. Brad Klippert serves the 8th Legislative District and is a member of the House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee. Klippert also works as a Benton County deputy sheriff and school resource officer for the Kiona-Benton City School District.