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Stop signs, crossing guards, and traffic calming: How to protect child pedestrians

Making cities more bike- and pedestrian-friendly in an era of exponentially faster cars and more powerful engines is a daunting challenge for transportation planners. To meet the evolving challenges, new methods are constantly being tested: automating speed enforcement, traffic calming, and narrowing streets.

When it comes to school zones, though, the stakes are too high for anything but the best method. Traffic accidents are the number one killer of children in school zones. From 1994 to 2003, 184 school-age pedestrians were killed by cars, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA). The problem is such that the United Nations declared 2011 to 2020 the Decade of Action for Road Safety.

Thus determining which method most effectively slows down drivers has become a national project. In 2005, the federal government introduced the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program, which rolled out various pilot projects in school districts around the country, measuring the efficacy of crossing guards, traffic calming, student education, and signage, among other child-safety topics. Data from these trials and from academic studies around the globe helps establish future best practices.

A 2008 Israeli study cited in Safety Science magazine revealed that implementing a crossing guard program has a significant effect on certain groups and certain ages.

A 2008 Israeli study cited in Safety Science magazine revealed that implementing a crossing guard program has a significant effect on certain groups and certain ages. Seventh-graders at schools with crossing guards showed better knowledge of traffic rules and more of a tendency to look both ways before crossing the street than students without them. Though gender and school location also affected the children's behavior, the presence of a crossing guard was clearly a factor in keeping children safe.

Traffic calming--the practice of modifying street design with chicanes, curb extensions, trees, roundabouts, medians, and other physical and visual barriers--has also proven effective in positively changing driver behavior. In European trials from the 1990s, such methods as "lowering speed limits, rolex replica watches using speed bumps and signs, or narrowing roads...have been conducted," found Terry Klassen in a 2000 article for The Future of Children, "and are promising." Many school districts in the SRTS program are employing traffic calming measures today, though data on its efficacy has yet to be released.

To slow down drivers, cities and states have also lowered speed limits and increased signage around school zones, from flashing "School Zone" signs to florescent-yellow "Watch Out For Children" warnings. SRTS says: "School zone signs and pavement markings provide important information to drivers to improve safety within the school zone," though it warns that "Signs should be used judiciously, as overuse may lead to driver noncompliance, and excessive signs may create visual clutter."

Such visual warnings have proven effective in getting drivers' attention. According to the child-safety network Safe Kids USA, distracted drivers were observed more frequently in school zones that didn't have flashing lights.

Uniform Traffic Control Devices A diagram from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices shows where signs for speed limits, school zones, and pedestrian crossings may be placed around schools.

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