As children head back to school after the summer, we all have a responsibility to be more watchful on the roads.
According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), children aged 14 and under are the most at-risk group when it comes to pedestrian collisions. While the number of pedestrian deaths and injuries in Toronto decreased in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, 21 pedestrians were killed and 42 seriously injured in the city so far this year.
Driving defensively and observing the rules of the road, particularly in school zones, helps keep everyone safe. Distracted driving is a particular concern around school zones and community safety zones, and in addition to automated speed enforcement cameras, you can expect the police to be vigilant in these areas as well. In April and May of this year alone, Toronto’s 50 Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE) devices issued a total of 54,204 tickets near school zones.
It is worth noting that driving infractions committed in a school zone can substantially increase your car insurance rates in Ontario. Traffic violations, such as improperly passing a school bus, failing to obey a school crossing sign, or speeding in a school zone, are considered major convictions. Depending on your insurance company, major convictions can increase your insurance premium by 15% or more for a first offence and 25% or more for subsequent offences.
Here are nine essential safety rules to keep in mind when driving in or near school zones this fall:
1. Always stop for a school bus when the lights are flashing
In Ontario alone, 833,000 children use the school bus every day. Children are often excited and energetic when getting on or off the bus and may not sense the dangers of oncoming traffic. Watch out for children who may dart out from stopped school buses or parked cars. Do not obstruct a school bus loading zone, and be patient as children get on and off the bus.
Motorists travelling in both directions are required to stop for a school bus when its red lights are flashing, and the stop arm is out. Failing to stop for a school bus carries a fine of up to $2,000 and six demerit points for a first-time offence.
2. Observe the posted speed limits
According to TIRF, pedestrians struck at 50 km/h are eight times more likely to be killed than if they are struck at 30 km/h. Risks also vary by age.
Speed limits in school zones are typically 30 or 40 km/h. It’s essential to slow down as you approach a school zone and watch for children who may run into harm’s way.
Travelling at a slow speed gives drivers time to stop in case children happen to cross the road unexpectedly. Playground zones have the same speed limits and are in effect from dawn until dusk each day.
3. Use designated stopping areas only
Respect the school’s pick-up and drop-off areas to avoid creating traffic congestion and unsafe conditions. That includes respecting “No Parking” and “No Stopping” zones.
By parking or stopping illegally, you will create unsafe conditions for those around you, impacting visibility, traffic flow, and compromising safe zones. It is not just inconvenient to other road users; it is also dangerous.
4. Always obey the crossing guard
Children expect crossing guards to allow them to cross the street only if it is safe, so disregarding a crossing guards' instructions can have serious consequences.
School crossing guards are legally permitted to use the stop sign to stop traffic and assist school children crossing the street. Obeying the crossing guard is not optional. All vehicles must come to a complete stop and remain so until children — and the crossing guard — are safely off the road.
5. Do not pass other vehicles in a school zone
Attempting to pass another vehicle is prohibited in school zones. When passing other vehicles, you may be travelling quickly, and your overall visibility is reduced.
Similarly, avoid taking a U-turn, a three-point turn, or reversing in a school zone. Any unpredictable driving manoeuvre may cause or contribute to a collision.
6. Avoid driving into the school parking lot
School parking lots tend to be very congested, especially at designated school pick-up and drop-off times. Increased traffic means an increased likelihood of accidents. It’s safer for everyone if you park across the street and use the crosswalk to get to the school property.
7. Expect the unexpected
Children are unpredictable and can run out into traffic at any time. As you approach a school zone, be vigilant, and prepare for children to run onto the road unexpectedly.
8. Share the road with cyclists
Kids riding a bike to school can also create problems for drivers as children may not be able to determine traffic dangers. When passing a cyclist, proceed slowly, and leave a few feet between your vehicle and them. Also, when turning, if you see a child on a bike approaching, wait for them to pass. Watch for kids on bikes and be extra vigilant in school zones and residential areas.
9. Teach your children the rules of traffic safety and school bus etiquette
You can help keep your children safe by teaching them the rules of the road.
Children should stay away from any streets and the school parking lot while they are at school. Crossing the street only at designated crosswalks, under the supervision of an adult (ideally a crossing guard), is key to reducing the likelihood that your child might be hit.
Teach your children to use the sidewalk whenever possible, look both ways before crossing the street, and pay attention to where they are going. This is especially important for kids who are old enough to have their cellphone, for instance, and might be distracted while crossing the road.
If your child rides a bike to school, ensure they wear a fitted helmet and securely fasten the chin strap. Talk to them about the rules of the road as a cyclist, the importance of staying in a bike lane whenever possible, and never using an electronic device while riding.
If your child takes the school bus, teach them to respect the school bus driver. They should always remain seated while on the bus and refrain from distracting behaviour, such as throwing things or yelling. They should line up for the school bus at least five steps away from the road in a single file line and wait for the bus. They should wait until the bus has come to a complete stop and the doors are open before moving forward. When getting off the bus, children should always walk (rather than run) and be careful if they need to cross the street. They should never cross between parked cars.
Being a cautious driver in school zones should be a top priority. Plus, it has the added benefit of helping you maintain a safe driving record, which is the single most helpful way to get a low car insurance premium.
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