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Crosswalk flags signal need for solution
Central Kitsap School District Superintendent Greg Lynch and Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer installed make-shift crossing flags at the Central Valley Road and Conifer Drive crosswalk near Fairview Junior High Thursday morning.
A 17-year-old girl was hit a week earlier while crossing the same corner, and a 12-year-old boy was hit there three years prior, both on their way to school.
Pedestrian injury is a leading cause of injury or death for children one to 14 years old in the United States. An estimated 13,000 children were injured in 2009 and 244 died after pedestrian-vehicle collisions, according to Safekids.org, a child safety non-profit.
Crosswalk visibility and driver negligence combine to form a dangerous hazard for children who walk to class in school zones every week day.
Boyer said they probably didn’t have all the necessary permissions to install the flags, but felt something needed to be done without delay.
“If we wait until some kid gets hurt then I think we failed,” Boyer said.
Boyer and Lynch said they felt the reflective crossing flags were an inexpensive way to bring awareness to both pedestrians and drivers.
The bright orange flags work as a signal to drivers of a pedestrian’s intent to cross.
Small plastic containers, formerly garbage cans from Boyer’s garage, were attached to the crosswalk signs on either side of the road. Pedestrians hold up the flag to alert drivers and then cross when traffic has stopped, placing the flag in the bin on the other side of the street.
Lynch said the schools will do some work educating students about crossing, but for the most part they expect students will instinctively know what to do.
Boyer and Lynch said that at this time, there are no plans to install flags at any other intersections.
The two said they do hope, however, that the idea catches on. The flag installment was as much an attempt to bring awareness and to inspire possible action in the future as it was a safety measure for one crosswalk.
David Beil, the district’s community relations director, said a group of students at Olympic High School is looking into purchasing reflective tape and giving it to students to put on their backpacks.
At this point, the reflective tape is only an idea, and nothing will likely come about until school returns to session after winter break.
Deputy Ron Zude, who has worked in law enforcement for more than 20 years and with Kitsap County’s traffic division for five years, said one of the biggest problems for students is how often drivers speed in school zones.
In the morning and afternoon, when school zone speeds are active, the speed limit drops to 20 mph.
“Pedestrians who are hit by a car traveling 40 mph have a 15 percent chance of survival, but 85 percent survive when hit by a car moving at 20 mph,” stated a report on pedestrian safety from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The stopping distance for a vehicle traveling 30 mph as opposed to 20 is significantly longer, 197 and 112 feet, respectively.
The American Academy of Pediatrics study stated, “In residential neighborhoods, an average vehicle speed of 30 mph, compared with 20 mph, was associated with more than a sevenfold greater risk of children being hospitalized for pedestrian injuries.”
Zude said after the flag installation Thursday he had stopped three drivers speeding in school zones that morning. All three were going at least 30 mph.
“Even with me on the side of the road, it’s hard to get drivers to recognize they’re in a school zone,” Zude said.
Zude and two other deputies spend each morning patrolling Kitsap County school zones. Off the top of his head, Zude guessed Kitsap County has at least 17 school zones that he and the other deputies cycle through.
Some of those school zones naturally force drivers to slow down, while others, such as Central Valley Road, are long open stretches where drivers often don’t slow down.
“People just shoot right through,” Zude said.
While a road like Central Valley may have problems with drivers speeding right through, perhaps the biggest, and most distressing problem according to Zude is the driving of students’ parents.
“About 30 percent or so of school zone violators are parents,” Zude said.
The people most concerned with the safety of students are often the drivers doing the most harm.
Not only is speeding an issue for parents, they are a large contributor to pedestrian collisions in school zones.
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation, 50 percent of children hit by cars near schools are hit by cars driven by parents of students.
“It is recommended that drop-off and pick-up zones for parents driving their children to school be clearly marked and placed far from child pedestrian and school bus drop-off areas,” stated the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the collision on Dec. 12, when the 17-year-old girl was hit, the driver of the vehicle had just turned out of the junior high student drop off area, a few dozen feet north of the crosswalk.