Traffic: Keeping students safe outside the school gates

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News of an increase in road accidents near to schools hit the headlines earlier this year. Sarah Mir and Tony McLoughlin look at what schools and parents can do to help keep students safe on their way to and from school.

The AXA RoadSafe Schools report 2013 highlighted the worrying number of road traffic accidents that occur on roads in the vicinity of schools. 

The report’s findings include evidence that:

  • In 37 per cent of local school areas, at least one child sustained a road injury each year from 2006 to 2011.

  • In this period, there were 85,814 child injuries on roads within a 500-metre radius of schools, the equivalent of 1,190 incidents a month.

  • Outside of London, cities with more than 100 schools such as Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham had the highest number of road injuries (deaths, serious injuries and slight injuries) around schools. 

These statistics are alarming, particularly as they relate to children who are arguably the most vulnerable section of society and for whom the consequences of a serious road traffic accident can be far-reaching. 

For the child, injuries can result in life-long effects and a dependence on others. There is a huge emotional and financial impact on the victim and their family, not least because the most serious claims can result in expensive court cases and increased insurance premiums.

These statistics beg the question: what can schools, parents and local communities do to protect pupils’ safety on or near the road? 

There are numerous simple steps that can be taken to raise education and awareness.

Road safety education

The courts have generally not permitted children below the age of 13 to be held liable, legally, for their involvement in road traffic accidents. 

Nevertheless, in terms of accident prevention, it is critical that all pupils are aware of the Green Cross Code and older children should be made aware of the Highway Code, especially those who cycle to and from school.

Schools should consult the resources provided by the Department for Transport and introduce road safety education into their curriculum. Parents and guardians should be encouraged to continue this awareness beyond the classroom. It takes just a small amount of time to teach and practice road safety with children.

Appropriate clothing

With an increased focus on pupils adopting a healthier lifestyle, those who choose to walk or cycle to school should be reminded of basic safety necessities. Though it is not a legal requirement, cyclists should wear helmets and other protective gear as advocated by the Highway Code. Suitable lighting on the frame of the bike is mandatory, however, and essential for those cycling in reduced light conditions. 

Additionally, pupils should wear appropriate reflective clothing, particularly in the autumn and winter months when daylights hours are reduced. Inexpensive reflective and safety gear is easy to purchase on the high street or online. 

A failure to wear such clothing has been used by insurers in attempts to reduce the amount of damages paid to injured pedestrians. An example of this is the case of Bethany Probert vs Moore which attracted much controversy. 

Technology

Children increasingly use mobile devices or listen to music as they travel to school. This reduces traffic awareness and the report draws a clear connection between the proliferation of this technology and the number of accidents occurring, particularly in the high-risk 11 to 15-year-old category. The responsible use of technology should be a focus of contemporary road safety education and should be taught both by schools and parents. 

Risk assessment

Schools are obliged to conduct risk-assessments on a regular basis in order to identify any potentially dangerous or hazardous situations that could cause injury or harm to pupils. 

A risk assessment should not overlook general factors such as the size of the school site against the pupil population and the road layout in the vicinity. 

Regular risk assessments may warrant implementing a number of measures including the following:

Site plan 

The school may wish to co-ordinate a designated “drop-off zone” on the school premises, in order to manage the flow of traffic. Care should also be given to entrances that adjoin car parks (for teachers and senior students) along with loading bays

Efforts should be taken to ensure all vehicular access ways are free from visual obstructions (such as overgrown bushes and trees) and blind spots. They should also be appropriately lit.

Schools should consider designated pathways and barriers in order to ensure pupils are guided away from traffic on school premises, as well as containing younger pupils within the safety of the school’s supervised areas

Appropriate supervision 

Schools should allocate resources to the supervision of pupils while they are entering and exiting the school premises. This has become increasingly difficult with the prevalence of breakfast and after-school clubs, extending the traditional school day. However, effective monitoring is vital to oversee pupils’ safety at these peak-traffic times of the day.

Some schools and parents have addressed this issue by creating “walk to school clubs” that allow pupils to travel to school as a group, under the watchful eye of designated adults.

Schools with a senior pupil population (such as those with 6th forms), face the difficult task of managing pupils who have greater autonomy. Some may allow these pupils to leave the premises during lunch hours or free periods. 

In such circumstances, schools should ensure there is a robust procedure in place to balance the pupil’s safety against their independence. There is also the possibility that these students may start to drive to school and therefore the school should give consideration to their safety in car parks

The local council

If there is room for improved road safety within the surrounding area, the school should liaise with local authorities to implement more safety measures. For example, the implementation of crossing patrols could facilitate safer crossing on roads that suffer from heavy traffic. 

Similarly, local authorities are under a duty to alert road users to nearby schools and pedestrian crossings by way of signs and road markings. If there are insufficient warning signs in the locality, headteachers or parental groups should notify the relevant authorities.

Looking ahead

While the government has described the data within the RoadSafe Schools report as “crude”, it acknowledges the serious implications of poor road safety, especially around schools. Accordingly, measures are being taken to make it easier for councils to implement 20mph zones on roads near schools. Stiffer penalties for drivers using mobile phones are also being introduced.

Although schools cannot prevent the occurrence of road traffic accidents entirely, steps can be taken to help safeguard the school population. The data contained in the report suggests that there is room for improvement, and a holistic and consistent approach from parents, schools and local authorities will help to achieve this. 

  • Sarah Mir and Tony McLoughlin are senior solicitor and director respectively in the insurance team at business law firm DWF.


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