Today is back to school day here in Portland and that means that in many neighborhoods the streets and sidewalks are going to filled with kids headed to school in the morning and home or to after-school activities each afternoon. Coming one week after a 15-year-old was killed while crossing a city street this is a time to reflect on what we can all do to help keep kids safe.
According to a report by TV station KATU, the fatal crosswalk accident took place earlier this month at the corner of Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a 20-year-old driver who “was passing other cars, reaching upwards of 60 mph” before the fatal accident. The girl’s friends and family came together last Friday for a memorial bike ride in her honor that began on Salmon Street, stopped at City Hall and ended at the accident site. “The protestors, specifically, have taken issue with Vision Zero, Portland’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths,” KATU wrote about the memorial ride. “Critics argue the initiative hasn’t done much except outline a goal.”
With the accident freshly in mind The Oregonian offered some useful reminders concerning back-to-school safety. The newspaper notes that there are no statewide regulations requiring school zones to be identified in a consistent manner. That creates a special responsibility for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, since it isn’t always immediately clear that one is around a school, especially when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. The paper notes that only 30 percent of kids arrive at school in a family car and 22 percent ride a school bus. That leaves about one-third of all students walking to school while another 10 percent ride bikes.
That, in turn, means a lot of kids are on our streets and sidewalks at this time of year. Indeed, as SafeKids Oregon notes: “according to research by the National Safety Council, most of the children who lose their lives in bus-related incidents are 4 to 7 years old, and they’re walking. They are hit by the bus, or by a motorist illegally passing a stopped bus.” SafeKids notes that this makes observing speed limit laws in school zones and following the law requiring traffic to stop in both directions when a school bus is picking up or dropping off kids especially important.
Oregon law (ORS 811.028) defines crosswalk violations as Class B Traffic Violations, punishable by a fine of $260 but as we all know the damage that can be done in this sort of accident far exceeds the fine a police officer might impose. As a parent and a Portland lawyer specializing in both injuries to children and in protecting the rights of the cycling community I should add that reckless driving near schools or around kids also carries the risk of significant penalties in civil court if a driver’s negligence leads to an accident. As the new school year begins I strongly urge readers to take a few minutes to review the detailed safety tips relating to driving, walking and biking in and near schools offered by SafeKids (see link below). Vision Zero is an admirable program, but it should not require a government initiative for all of us to act responsibly when we are driving near schools, kids, pedestrians and cyclists. This is a perfect example of a problem that can easily be solved if everyone pulls together and is vigilant of both their own actions and of those around them.
The Oregonian: Reminder: slow down in school zones as students return