School Zone Safety: Keeping an Eye out for the Kids

By Lesley Green
Yellow school crossing road sign against bright blue sky.

Back-to-school season is upon us and that means all drivers will need a refresher course on school zone safety.

School zones are busy spots. Parents (and school buses) are dropping off and picking up children, crossing guards are directing traffic, and kids are milling about, talking and playing with their friends. There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot to look out for as a driver.

Watch for school zone signs

No one expects you to know where every school is, but you are expected to watch for the signs letting you know when you’re entering a school zone. These five-sided, yellowish signs featuring two students with books in hand, are basically universal across the country.

When you see these signs, slow down, watch for children, and be ready to stop at a moment's notice.

Reduce your speed

Speed limits around schools are always lower—slow down and obey the posted speed limit. In fact, slower is better. According to the World Health Organization, a pedestrian has a 90 per cent chance of survival if hit by a car travelling at 30 km/h or slower, but less than 50 per cent chance of surviving an impact when the vehicle is going 45 km/h. The speed limit around schools is lower for a reason, so drive slowly because speeding in a school zone is strictly enforced.

Do not pass a stopped school bus

School bus safety is important. In most cases, traffic in both directions must stop for school buses when its red lights are flashing, as this means children are either loading onto the bus or off. Only once the flashing lights stop and the bus begins to move again, should you continue along your way, cautiously.

Passing a school bus when you shouldn't comes with hefty consequences. In Ontario, for example, the first offence will cost you anywhere from $400 to $2,000 and six demerit points. Then there’s the impact it’ll have on your car insurance; this ticket is considered a major offence and will likely result in a major increase in your insurance premiums.

Do not pass other cars while in a school zone

No matter how slow the car is going ahead of you, do not pass it in a school zone. It’s simply dangerous.

Obey the crossing guard

School crossing guards are legally permitted to stop traffic (with their stop sign) and assist school children crossing the street. Obeying the crossing guard is not optional. All vehicles must come to a complete stop and remain stopped until the children, and the crossing guard, are safely off the road.

Common sense rules

Children can be unpredictable, and you may need to act fast to avoid an accident. When in a school zone, keep in mind that kids could be present on any side of the vehicle. Don’t drive distracted, and avoid using your hands-free device. It's safest to avoid backing up, making U-turns or three-point turns as well. Be patient, and be ready to stop at all times.