With students returning to classes in a few weeks, motorists need to make an important safety pledge to youngsters and their communities in Washington, D.C.: Please, for goodness’ sake, slow down.
This is not happening as it should, putting kids at heightened risk, a new study has found. As the Washington Post reported:
“D.C. drivers traveling through school zones, where signage directs them to slow down and be more alert for children, are not reducing speeds and are getting into crashes at the same rate as along other roadways, according to a new study that offers a snapshot of driving behaviors around schools. The presence of traffic and school zone signs also doesn’t significantly slow drivers, especially around schools with lower-income students, according to the report by traffic analytics firm INRIX, which reviewed traffic data around 27 schools across the city’s four quadrants.”
District of Columbia officials have obsessed in recent months about traffic safety for cause, the newspaper said:
“The District last year recorded its highest number of traffic deaths in 14 years, bringing increasing attention to the number of injuries and fatalities on city streets. The report backs anecdotal evidence raised by advocates and parents about drivers disregarding traffic rules and follows several collisions involving schoolchildren, which sounded the alarm among city leaders last fall. According to INRIX, about 20% of drivers travel at least 10 mph above the 15-mph speed limit in school zones. Speeders are more prevalent around schools in Southeast and Southwest Washington, as well as areas with the highest concentration of lower-income students.”
Bob Pishue, an INRIX transportation analyst who led the study, told the Washington Post that lawmakers, principals, teachers, and parents cannot reflexively rely on signs or speed limits to safeguard students as they flock to school on neighborhood streets:
“Things like reducing speed limits alone do not do that much to drop speeds. That’s something that can be done relatively fast and it’s a blanket approach, but as a society we need to dig deeper. We need to figure out what we can do, especially around those high-fatality, high-injury, and low-income areas where speeding is prevalent, likely due to under investment over the years.”
Besides boosting spending on law enforcement, traffic cameras, and crossing guards, the District could be investing in speed bumps, electronic signage, raised crosswalks, and curb extensions, as well as all-way stop markings at intersections near schools, the newspaper reported.
The transportation consultants advised District officials that they also should consider making school safety zones consistent throughout the area, as, in some spots, the limits apply to varying sides of the street, during differing hours of the day, or only when indicated by signage, such as flashing lights for speed-controlled times.
The bigger problem, still, is getting lead-footed drivers to use the appropriate caution around kids and schools, especially in poorer parts of the District, the newspaper reported:
“The INRIX analysis found that speeding is more prevalent around schools in Southeast and Southwest Washington. For example, 22% of drivers travel at least 10 mph above the school zone speed limit in Southeast, compared with 14% in Northeast. Speeding is also a bigger problem around schools with a higher proportion of low-income students. About 24% of drivers near lower-income schools travel faster than 25 mph in the 15 mph zones, compared with 17% in upper-income schools, according to the report. Near Stanton Elementary School in Southeast, where a high proportion of students are economically disadvantaged, the analysis found that, on average, more than 30% of vehicles on Naylor Road SE travel faster than 25 mph during the morning hours when students are walking to school. At one section of Naylor Road, a long block south of the school — between Denver Street SE and 28th Street SE — 55% of drivers travel faster than 25 mph, according to the analysis. The speed increase, INRIX found, was partly due to confusing signage.”
Theresa Vargas, a Washington Post local columnist, commented on the school traffic safety study, arguing that it only confirmed District parents’ worst, already known fears about motorists seeming indifference to the dire consequences of injuring or killing a child. She recounted the sorrow that she has seen in students, parents, teachers, and others in recent traffic deaths and wrecks involving youngsters, adding:
“It shouldn’t just fall to grieving parents and fearful cyclists and pedestrians to put pressure on city officials to make the roads safer. Drivers also need to be part of that effort. They need to start caring more about this issue and recognizing that their lives stand to be altered in horrific ways if more isn’t done to encourage or force more drivers to slow down in school zones. As a parent of two elementary-aged children, I am hyper aware of school zones. But in my 20s, I have no doubt that a speed bump or a stop sign caused me to slow down when my good sense didn’t.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by wrecks involving pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks. We are all, due to vehicular menaces, one unfortunate step into a busy intersection away from seeing our lives, families, and finances upended with short- and long-term harms.
It seems that another “d” must be added to problems that we motorists can improve to benefit the greater safety of all — destructiveness. It is unacceptable to speed and to recklessly disregard proven safety measures, including personal restraints, and common-sense conduct behind the wheel while purportedly navigating several tons of metal, glass, and plastic flying down the way. It is unacceptable to be distracted (by electronic devices, especially for texting, or loud music or conversation), to be drugged (with intoxicants like alcohol or marijuana or prescription medications). If you are sleepy, angry, or frustrated, don’t work out your difficulties by driving and putting yourself and others at risk.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to make our streets and highways safer for us all.