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How can I Drive Safely Near Schools?

Posted on: August 16, 2021

When it comes to schools and safety, one cannot exist without the other. However, with all of the concerns regarding the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, other important matters such as driving safely near schools may not be getting the attention they deserve. The 2021-2022 school season is rapidly approaching, and now is the time to start thinking about the best ways to drive near schools and on school grounds, preventing car accidents and personal injury.

What is a School Zone?

School zones are the areas that are near schools and crosswalks that lead up to schools. Many drivers do not even realize they are approaching school zones, and this puts students and everyone else there at risk. These zones are usually preceded by speed bumps, flashing lights, and warning signs to make drivers aware of what lies ahead. Most school zone speeds in the United States are 15 to 25 mph, and some are clarified with the words: When children are present. Even so, it is safer to maintain that speed at all hours, since students often hang around at schools after hours. It is also wise to slow down near playgrounds, parks, and residential areas.

There may be crossing guards in the zone, and they require drivers to stop when students are crossing the streets at crosswalks. One might also see a few students on bicycles there as well. Crosswalks look like parallel white pavement markings that reach from one side of the road to another; there may also be warning signs. Even if pedestrians are not in the crosswalks or make dangerous moves such as walking in front of cars, they should still be given the right of way. Revving the engine or honking the horn will only serve to scare them or get them angry. This can escalate situations and create some very undesirable consequences.

When driving in a school zone, motorists should not block crosswalks when waiting to make turns or when at red lights. This forces people to walk around vehicles, putting them at risk for getting hit by another vehicle. It could even put them in the path of oncoming traffic, which is treacherous. Not slowing down, not stopping, and not giving pedestrians and bicyclists the right of way in school zones put lives at risks; children need to be able to get to and from school without having to be afraid of getting hit or hurt.

It is not hard to get frustrated when driving through school zones, especially for commuters who are late to work or have little patience. Getting to work five minutes early is not worth the damages that could be caused by hurting a child, though. If driving through a school zone every day is making things too hard, the best option is to find another route to get to the destination.

How Should I Drive on School Properties?

Schools get quite congested during drop-off and pick-up times, with big yellow school buses pulling up or driving out; staff members arriving and leaving; and parents and students walking, driving, and riding bikes. Drivers need to slow down and follow the posted speed limit signs in school zones and on school properties. These numbers vary depending on where they are located; street speed limits can be higher than those in the parking lots. It is also a good idea to keep the headlights on at all times. Newer models usually have this feature, but older vehicles may not. This added visibility can be a lifesaver at times.

With so much activity taking place on school properties, it can be hard for drivers to maintain their focus. One never knows when a student will seemingly appear out of nowhere, or when an inexperienced student driver will run a stop sign. This is why it is imperative to avoid distractions such as cell phones, pets in the car, changing radio stations, checking the GPS, eating, drinking, or looking in the mirror. Teenage drivers are also prone to these kinds of distractions, which makes the risk of accidents even higher.

More Helpful Driving Advice

Besides all of the above advice, drivers should slow down further when entering school properties and watch out for flashing lights, crossing guards, traffic cones, and other safety indicators. Keeping watch for pedestrians of all ages is also crucial, and drivers must be aware that the movements of pedestrians can be unpredictable. They always have the right of way, as do school buses. Drivers must stop for these buses whenever children are getting on or getting off. Bus drivers extend the top arm, which usually has a stop sign and flashing red lights. Drivers also need to keep a safe distance of 10 feet away from stopped school buses.

Other rules for driving in school parking lots include the following:

  • Do not make U-turns.
  • Do not pass other vehicles.
  • Do not change lanes.
  • Do not park in emergency vehicle or handicapped parking spots or lanes unless licensed to do so.
  • Do not double park.

Safer Drop-offs and Pick-ups

Besides those five bulleted items, parents and caregivers who take children to school should be aware of the school’s drop-off procedures, which are provided to families before the start of school. These can change from year to year and must be read and followed. Also, drivers should never load or unload children from across the street. When that happens, it puts the children at risk because they have to cross the street, which is likely to be congested.

Carpooling is a good way to reduce that congestion and cut down on accidents. This can be a great help for busy parents, who can share the responsibility with like-minded friends whose children attend the same school. Leaving a bit early for drop-offs and pick-ups is another smart idea. This way, people are not as rushed to get to school on time and are not distracted by anxiety. Drivers who are not paying attention and/or emotional are more likely to cause accidents.

To grab that extra time, alarm clocks can be set 10 minutes earlier. This can be tough at first, but it will soon become a habit. Preparing lunches the night before, packing up backpacks, and setting out which clothes to wear are also good time-saving habits.

What Happens When Accidents Occur in School Zones?

This all depends on the nature and severity of the accident. If anyone is hurt, their medical needs are the priority. An immediate call to 911 will be required, and a law enforcement officer should soon be at the scene because of the school zone location. If it is safe to do so, the vehicles should be moved off to the side of the road and turned off. Drivers and passengers should wait with the vehicles until help arrives.

If a teenage driver was involved, others may likely assume that he or she was at fault. However, this is not always the case. Car accidents occur for any number of reasons, and the fault could be due to a distracted adult driver, a defective traffic signal, poor weather conditions, or a poorly maintained vehicle if the brakes fail. It is best to stick to the facts and not provide opinions as to what happened. If there are questions about liability, law enforcement officers and an experienced car accident lawyer will be able to help determine the cause of the accident.

Most states and municipalities will impose higher fines when traffic laws are violated in school zones. It is not unusual to have double and triple speeding fines. These are in place to prevent drivers from risking children’s lives, and for everyone’s safety. When liability is determined, an at-fault driver may end facing significant fines and penalties, especially if there was negligence involved.

Monmouth County Car Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Advocate for Safer Driving in School Zones

Stricter laws keep school grounds and school zones safer for everyone, but accidents can and do happen here to children and adults. If you were involved in a school zone accident and need trusted legal guidance, reach out to the skilled Monmouth County car accident lawyers at Ellis Law. We will review your case and give you the assistance you need. Call us at 732-308-0200 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York City.