With school back in session, Canadian municipalities, organizations and businesses are imploring parents to stay calm and focused during the chaotic school zone rush hours of drop-off and pick-up. An increase in pedestrian and bicyclist accidents overall in Canada, has resulted in an urgent need for education and awareness.
Parents Behaving Badly
Over the past few years BCAA’s School Zone Safety Surveys have delivered increasingly concerning results about the driving behaviours of parents witnessed in school zones.
“School zones are somewhere between an obstacle course of potential dangers and the Wild West,” says Shawn Pettipas, BCAA’s Community Engagement Director. “It’s particularly bad during the first few weeks after kids return from summer break.”
According to last year’s BCAA School Safety Report that surveyed parents and school staff across BC, 80% had witnessed a number of dangerous driving behaviours in school zones, including not stopping at crosswalks, speeding, and using cell phones behind the wheel. Results from 2016 found that congestion, being in a hurry or running late, and distraction make safe driving during drop-off and pick-up times particularly difficult for parents.
Pettipas is worried that this year will be the same and is respectfully urging parents to do everything possible to get in the right mindset before heading out with the kids on the first day back.
“I’m a parent, so I understand that feeling of being rushed,” Pettipas says. “I know that pressure to drop off and pick up on time, but if we don’t collectively stop rushing, someone’s going to get seriously hurt.”
Dr. Ian Pike with Preventable agrees that rushing in school zones continues to be an issue that needs to be addressed. Over the past ten years, numbers of child pedestrian hospitalizations and deaths have not improved. This lack of progress is associated with being in a rush, speeding in school zones and distracted driving.
“Every year, 72 schoolchildren in BC are injured by vehicles in school or playground zones,” says Dr. Ian Pike, co-executive director of Preventable. “We wish to remind drivers to be alert, focused, not on their phones, and to drive like they expect a child to run out into the road.”
Road Safety Education and Awareness
It isn’t only school zones that are becoming more hazardous. There have been alarming increases in pedestrian and bicyclist accidents and deaths as well. In 2017, 36 pedestrians, 13 drivers and 4 cyclists were killed in a collision with a motor vehicle in Toronto. 2018 is on pace to be another bad year, with more than 20 pedestrian and cyclist deaths so far in the city. Part of the problem is the lack of education around safe practices and road signage.
A Canadian Road Safety survey commissioned by RSA Canada found that 50 percent of pedestrians don’t always know when cyclists have the right of way. Thirty-three percent of cyclists have seen an unfamiliar road sign recently.
It’s clear that more education is needed and road users agree: the same survey found that 57 percent of cyclists and 44 per cent of pedestrians want their cities to invest in driver education. The reality, however, is that everyone could benefit from a bigger investment in road safety education if we really want to keep our streets safe, especially as our streets are going to be busier with students returning to school in the coming weeks.
Many cities, organizations and businesses are taking action to reduce accidents and fatalities. For example, the TruceTO hub contains a variety of tools, resources and tips on road safety – something that all road users can get behind and integrate into their day-to-day lives. Educational resources on the site include a road safety quiz, a podcast, an educational video depicting just how much our streets have evolved, back to school road safety tips, and links to educational materials created by several like-minded organizations committed to improving road safety.
In Toronto, the education gap, coupled with a lack of empathy among road users, has escalated the need for a solution to increase road safety – now. While more road safety plans and infrastructure changes lie ahead as part of the city’s ambitious Vision Zero road safety plan, TruceTO is aiming to use education and empathy to bring harmony among pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
“Long-term infrastructure change will undoubtedly lead to a reduction in injuries and fatalities. But in the short-term, TruceTO’s mandate is to turn the heat down in the ongoing debate among the city’s road users,” adds Ince. “That’s why we are focusing on road education when our children return to school this fall – we want to do our part to help make sure they’re safe on the way to school and back home.”
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