Houston is Home to the Most Dangerous School Zone in America
April 5th, 2018
Every driver knows that school zones require special care, including reduced speeds. You would think this fact would make us extra careful to protect kids from school zone accidents, especially in big cities where there are so many. Sadly, this is not the case. Houston is home to the most dangerous school zone in the country. An award we should not be proud of.
Child Pedestrians at Greater Risk
Child pedestrians are at a greater risk of being hit by cars than adults for many reasons. Some of these reasons include:
- Children are smaller and less visible, particularly to those driving large vehicles,
- Young children may not fully understand or remember the rules of safe crossing,
- Kids are often less able to think and adapt quickly in an emergency situation,
- Children may be more impulsive and more easily distracted than adults.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 20% of kids 14 and under who are killed in traffic were pedestrians at the time of the accident. SafeKids Worldwide reports that there are five teen pedestrian deaths in the U.S. every week.
Ideally, every driver would take these concerns seriously, and would not only obey the law but also exercise every reasonable precaution in school zones. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. School zones can be dangerous places, and that’s especially true in Texas.
Three of the nation’s five most dangerous school zones are in Texas, according to a 2017 report from Zendrive.
School Zone Accidents Due to Dangerous Driving
In the spring of 2017, Zendrive tracked driver behavior in 75,000 school zones across the country, involving more than 3 billion driver miles. Using measures such as frequency of cell phone usage within the school zone, hard braking, and fast acceleration, researchers created report cards for school, cities, and states. Nationwide, Zendrive determined that one in three drivers exhibited unsafe behavior when picking up or dropping off children in school zones.
The report identified the following schools as the five worst:
- Trinity Downtown Lutheran Church and School – Houston, TX
- East Side Elementary School, P.S. 267 – New York, NY
- Pegasus School of Liberal Arts & Sciences – Dallas, TX
- Bessie Carmichael Schools- San Francisco, CA
- The Covenant Charter School – Dallas, TX
Though Texas schools dominated the “worst” list, no school in the state appeared on the “best” list. Overall, school zones in urban areas were more dangerous than rural areas, which may help to explain why LaSalle County was the only Texas county to rank among the safest in school traffic safety.
Students Add to School Zone Risks
In 2016, SafeKids observed 39,000 middle school and high school students in school zones. The organization reported that 27% of high school students and 17% of middle school students engaged in “distracted walking.” The most common distractions were headphones and texting. 80% of students observed engaged in unsafe street crossing behaviors, such as crossing against the light, not looking before crossing, and not crossing in the designated area. Obviously, not paying attention can easily lead to school zone accidents.
The Most Dangerous Time of the Day
The afternoon pick-up period (from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.) was found to be 40% more dangerous than morning drop-off (7 a.m. to 10 a.m.). One factor contributing to the difference may be that children tend to arrive at school individually or in small groups, whereas they typically leave the school building in a flood of activity. The crowd means more noise, more distraction, and greater difficulty for teachers, parents, and other monitors who are attempting to prevent school zone accidents.
A bit surprisingly, the hour between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. is the most dangerous time to be on the road near a school. Though this is later than most schools dismiss, there are often children present for sports and other after-school activities at the same time that afternoon rush hour traffic gets underway.
Keeping Kids Safe in School Zones
Protecting young pedestrians from school zone accidents requires an effort from everyone: kids, school officials, local government, parents, and other drivers in the community. Some tips to make school zones safer include:
- Talking to your kids in an age-appropriate way about traffic safety: young children may need reinforcement of basics like looking both ways before they cross, while older kids and teens may not realize the danger associated with wearing headphones or looking down at a phone while walking.
- Observe speed limits and other safety regulations carefully, especially in school zones and around schools: one in 11 U.S. public school is within 500 feet of a heavily trafficked road
- Consider encouraging your kids to walk, bike, or ride the bus to school: the less automobile traffic in school zones, the better.
- When dropping kids off and picking them up, stay focused on your task and don’t take shortcuts such as zipping into an empty slot a few cars up or double-parking.
- Take responsibility as a driver: kids milling around and not paying attention may be frustrating, but as an adult maneuvering a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds through the area where they’re standing and walking, you must take every reasonable precaution.
Following these tips could help reduce school zone accidents and all pedestrian accidents and move towards making Houston a safe place for our children.
Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.