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Parents worry about safety at snarled up school parking areas

At the start and close of each school day, students often have to run the gauntlet through the school drop-off and pick-up zones, dodging buses and cars, and coping with inattentive drivers. This can be dangerous for students and very stressful for parents concerned about their safety, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health from Michigan Medicine.

In the nationally representative survey, conducted in April 2022 by Ipsos Public Affairs for the Hospital, 923 parents of at least one school-going child between the ages of 6 and 12 gave their responses on this issue. Over 50 percent of parents stated that their child traveled to and from school by car, while more than 30 percent used the school bus. Nearly half of the parents said their child had to walk through an area where cars were dropping off or picking up children in order to get to or from the school building. Similarly, a quarter of parents said their child walked through a bus drop-off or pick-up zone on the way to or from the school building.

“Many parents dread returning to the daily hassle of getting kids to school and one of the top concerns involves children safely walking through car and bus traffic,” said Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark, M.P.H.

Although 81 percent of the parents surveyed acknowledged that there is supervision in these car and bus access zones, only around 60 percent of these respondents rated the supervision as good. As a result, nearly a third of the parents worry about their child’s safety to and from school, with more than a quarter believing it’s likely that a child will get hurt near the drop-off area.

Parents report several major problems that pose a risk to children’s safety before or after school, including drivers not paying attention (37 percent) or speeding (34 percent). Another major problem arises when parents park in no-parking areas or drop off their child in the wrong location. This can cause a snarl-up in traffic, especially when parents stop in the middle of the road. Other issues that arose in the survey were that children do not stay on the sidewalk and bus drivers do not pay enough attention. 

“Most schools have a plan to manage traffic and minimize the need for children to walk in front of or between cars,” Clark said. “When parents don’t follow these rules, it disrupts the traffic flow and may mean other parents have to drop off or pick up their child in the middle of the road. This situation may be even more dangerous if parents are distracted by phones or in a hurry.”

Nearly all the parents surveyed (94 percent) felt that school officials should take action when parents do not follow traffic rules near the school. This action could involve warnings or infringement tickets from law enforcement officials, while 30 percent of parents felt those who failed to follow the traffic rules should be suspended or banned from using the school parking area. This approach would have to be undertaken with great caution, however, to prevent banned parents from dropping their children off in an even more dangerous location, such as along a busy road outside the school grounds. 

Parents were in favor of having school officials on duty in the parking areas at the beginning and end of each school day, to make sure that drivers of cars and buses were following the safety rules. They also suggested that schools could put up cones, gates and other barriers to direct traffic flow more efficiently. 

“Parents in our report overwhelmingly want school officials to be more proactive in addressing school traffic problems,” Clark said.

According to the survey report, one way for schools to decrease the traffic congestion near the school is to encourage more students to walk, or ride a bike or scooter to school. Of the 923 parents in the survey, only seven percent reported that their child walked to school, and only one percent rode a bicycle or scooter. These modes of traveling to and from school each day provide valuable exercise for children and can increase their self-confidence. 

Schools could encourage more students to walk or ride to school by informing them and their parents of safe routes and by manning pedestrian crossways at intersections on busy access roads. In addition, schools may work with city officials or parent-teacher associations to set up bike lanes, which would help reassure parents about the safety of their child during travel to and from school. Parents may even accompany their child as he or she rides or walks to school, making sure that good safety habits are followed and that the child knows the traffic rules.

“Parents should first ensure they are consistently following the traffic rules themselves. They can also take steps to prepare their child to travel safely to and from school by making sure they always look both ways for traffic,” said Clark.

“School officials should also do their part to be aware of any safety concerns and strictly enforce rules. Ultimately, the responsibility for keeping kids safe lies with the adults in the school community, including parents, bus drivers, school officials, and law enforcement.”

By Alison Bosman, Staff Writer

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