A new report from Safe Kids Worldwide sheds light on safety risks for student pedestrians — specifically those in their teens.
The research, supported by FedEx, observed 39,000 walkers and 56,000 drivers in school zones. Among the risky behaviors recorded were distracted walking by students, distracted driving by those dropping off students, unsafe speed limits, unmarked crosswalks, and limited crossing guards.
The findings come at a time when, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian deaths among 12- to 19-year-olds have increased 13% in the past two years. Five teens in the U.S. die every week while walking.
Also, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, in the past three years distracted walking has increased from 1 in 5 to more than 1 in 4 for high school students and from 1 in 8 to 1 in 6 for middle school students.
The nonprofit organization is calling on communities to make safe school zones a priority by lowering and enforcing speed limits of no more than 20 mph, installing signs and crosswalks where needed, enforcing smart policies for dropping off and picking up students, and eliminating distraction while driving and crossing the street.
The new research, titled "Alarming Dangers in School Zones," is an observational study that recorded middle and high school students crossing the street in school zones. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, about 80% of students were observed crossing the street in an unsafe manner. Teens who were distracted were most likely to be wearing headphones (44%) or texting (31%).
In addition to observing walkers, the study recorded how drivers behaved during drop-off and pickup. The researchers found that nearly 1 in 3 drivers displayed unsafe behaviors that endangered pedestrians, like texting, double parking, or blocking a crosswalk.
Low speed limits (at or below 20 mph) were observed in only 4 out of 10 school zones, and marked crosswalks were missing in 3 out of 10 crossings.
Researchers observed that drivers were far less likely to engage in unsafe behavior at schools where a drop-off/pickup policy was enforced, compared to schools where the policy was not enforced.
"With teen pedestrian deaths on the rise, we need to rally our communities to take action to protect our kids," said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. "Let's commit to slow down to at least 20 miles per hour in school zones, enforce the rules, and put an end to distraction while driving and crossing the street."