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School Zone Safety: Are We Pandering to Parents?


An important facet of road safety research is the improvement of school zones given the concentration of young pedestrians and cyclists who are particularly vulnerable. Road authorities are under increasing pressure from school representatives and parents to install newer technologies such as radar-based speed display signs, rectangular flashing beacons, and LED enhanced signs based on an underlying assumption that safety will be improved. While isolated studies have shown that many of these extra-ordinary countermeasures yield quantifiable changes in driver behaviour, what is not well understood is whether collisions are subsequently reduced, or even if there was a pre-existing collision ‘problem’ in need of attention. It is imperative that the traffic engineering community develop a better understanding of the relative magnitude of school zone collisions to provide a baseline upon which usage guidelines for non-traditional countermeasures can be developed.
This study synthesizes the results of a collision analysis for delineated urban school ‘zones’ and rural school ‘areas’ in the province of New Brunswick. The research was undertaken in the context that speed display units are being indiscriminately installed at area school sites with little or no consideration for past collision history, pre-existing speed profiles, traffic volumes, pedestrian volumes, or site-specific characteristics.
All urban schools from two of the largest cities in NB and a representative sample of rural schools were included in the analysis which captured up to 16 years of collision data for all severity levels (property damage only, injury and fatality). Observed collision rates within the school zones were contrasted against expected rates to identify those locations that underperformed. Predictive independent variables were identified in order to isolate those factors that should serve as markers for inclusion in usage guidelines for countermeasures.
Study results indicate that only 19% of delineated urban school zones/areas and 29% of rural zones/areas perform statistically worse than comparable road/street facilities outside of the influence of school operations. Similarly, 55% and 33% of urban and rural school zones/areas, respectively, are performing statistically better than expected. Study findings relating site characteristics to underperformance were inconclusive.

Conference Paper Details

Session title:
Challenges and Issues Providing Real and Perceived Safety in School Zones
Hazzard, K.
Hildebrand, E.
Road safety