Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pedestrian Safety at School

This is my eighth year as a parent at our school. On joining the school I was concerned about the traffic as we walked to school. The problem of parents breaking the road rules whilst driving around and parking at school has been a long standing problem, even as the school population changes.

Over the years the P&C has discussed many possible strategies to address the problem. We have tried recording the number plates of offending vehicles and sending this information to the local police. With local council we have discussed the possibility of installing traffic calming devices. We have attempted to make the children's crossing at the front of the school a permanent crossing, and asked that the signs be clearer, to no avail. Traffic Officers regularly issue fines to people around the school. Still parents park on the crossings at the front and side of the school, do U turns on the crossings, and double park by the gates at the back of the school.

After two years of discussion with local council we have a new pick up/drop off zone at the back of the school. It is near the corner so you can pick up or drop off your children at the gates on either street from this location. You can park there for five minutes during 8.30 -9.30 am and 2.30 - 3.30 pm, and if you get out of the car,  you need to stay near the vehicle. The same rules apply at the drop off/pick up zone at the front of the school. Many people park for longer than this time, and leave the vehicle to enter to the school. The point of these zones is to keep traffic moving in a safe way. If people aren't using them correctly, then more people park illegally.

The School Executive and P&C have tried to educate parents about road safety around the school. We have explained what the road signs mean. We have explained the fines for breaking the road rules. We have explained the reasons for the rules, for example, that by parking on the crossing you are blocking the visibility of other drivers so they can’t see the pedestrians. We encourage families to walk, ride a bike or scooter to school. We encourage people to organise a Walking Bus. We’ve asked that parents follow the rules in order to set a good example for their children. We’ve asked that parents follow the rules so they aren’t seen by the school community as people who are comfortable with breaking the rules.

We generally walk to school. From Year 5 onwards, my children have wanted to walk to school on their own. From Year 6 onwards my children are allowed to visit their friends in the local area. On starting high school they are confident travelling to and from school on their own. The dangerous part of walking to school is crossing the road directly outside the school because we know that parents break the rules there. But we have survived, because in walking to school on a daily basis my children have learnt road safety skills. They know to catch the driver’s eye before they cross. I hadn’t realised it, but in walking to school on a regular basis, and walking around our neighbourhood, I was teaching my children to become independent and comfortable within their community. Some of their friends who are driven to school every day are not allowed to walk alone to visit their friends, or ride their bike around the neighbourhood with friends, because they haven’t learnt the skills of being out and about in the neighbourhood. Granted, we don’t walk to school every time. Many days I go to school multiple times, but at 9am and 3pm, we try to walk.

Many mornings and afternoons I have spoken to people who have parked illegally, pointing out the dangers of them doing so. Many mornings while walking to school I have called out to people ‘it’s a crossing!’

I wonder what motivates some people to continually break the rules when it is so dangerous for other people. Do they not know, or do they not care? Their own convenience seems to overrule the safety of others. I’d like to ask why people persist in breaking the road rules around the school, but I suspect the reason is that they are running late. They want their children to be safe, but aren’t thinking about other people’s children. For some reason they feel the need to drop their children at the school gate, even though there is no parking by the school gates. The school gates are for pedestrians, not cars. All I can do is ask that they stop. Stop breaking the road rules around the school. If you must drive to school, please leave early enough so that you can park legally. Or park legally and get out of your car and get a late note.

And, when I see people breaking the rules around the school, I wonder what other rules they are breaking. Are they cheating on their taxes? Do they drink and drive? I note them as people I no longer trust. In ethics class we have been talking about how challenges define your character, and how we are known by our behaviour. Sadly, many parents fail this test.

If every family living within a few blocks of the school walked to school there would be far less traffic around the school. It would improve fitness. It means you would have to be organised enough to leave a few minutes earlier. It means your children would learn road safety skills, and become comfortable with more independence as they grow up in the community. And, if more people used the children’s crossing, it could be made a permanent crossing, and be safer for everyone. I know that lots of parents drive on to work after dropping off their children, or on to after school activities after picking them up, but there are many people who could walk to school, at least sometimes, and never do.

I do have other ideas. Perhaps we could paint outlines of children on the road. Or arrange tax audits for people who break the road rules. Or ask that the road bordering the three sides of the school become a No Stopping zone, because it is obvious that parents are constantly abusing the privilege of parking near the school. Or we could employ bouncers to man the gates, only admitting people who arrive at school following the rules. Of course, these won't happen, and it isn't up to me to solve the problem. Most days I wonder what it would take for people to obey the road rules. I know some schools do name and shame, but I suspect this would just provoke confrontations with the Principal, who has already been sworn at for asking parents to park safely. Sadly, I suspect that only the serious injury of a student will make people reconsider their behaviour.

While a team of health professionals are trying to keep me alive, I’ll be counting on the school community to keep my children alive. And if my team fails, I ask that, for two weeks of school term, in my honour, the sign at the front of the school read: ‘It’s a Crossing!' I'm telling you now, if my child is killed while I'm in hospital, I'll be very angry. 

If you have an ideas to help solve the problem, I'd like to hear them.


Lynne said...

Can you submit this blog post to SMH opinion page Catherine? It's a universal problem & addresses the big picture of the 'me' rather than 'we' culture we now live in. I don't know the answer either. The psychology baffles me. It would be good to get it talked about in the media again.

Lynne said...

I know SMH is ambitious but on this topic you never know...or maybe try for Hoopla again!