Road Worrier

Drivers ignore crosswalks in school zones

Staff WriterSeptember 1, 2009 

The school zone signs are plain to see on Dixie Trail in West Raleigh, cutting the speed limit to 25 mph on school days from 7 to 8:45 a.m. and 2 to 3:30 p.m.

The crosswalk markers are obvious, too: white bands across the asphalt, with a yellow school-crossing sign at each end.

Donna Wooster mimics the stick-figure parent on the sign as she stands at the curb, flanked by daughters Rachel and Sarah.

We all know what is supposed to happen next: The law says drivers must yield right of way to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

We can guess what happens instead.

"You're standing there, you put your foot in the crosswalk, and drivers 10 car lengths away will speed up to get past you," said Wooster, 43. "They're supposed to stop, not speed up. Besides ignoring the crosswalk, they're just going way too fast."

There's nothing unusual about Dixie Trail and other streets around Lacy Elementary School in West Raleigh. Schools across the Triangle know the problem: Drivers speed through school zones and refuse to stop for children in the crosswalks.

"Many people are in a hurry," said Charlie Zegeer, who studies pedestrian safety as associate director of the UNC-CH Highway Safety Research Center. "They may be late for work or not thinking about pedestrians, and often they're just careless."

Drivers are less likely to speed where there's an adult crossing guard, Zegeer said -- but that's no guarantee. Marcia Alford, the Lacy principal, was standing in a crosswalk and holding a bright stop sign last week when a driver sped past her.

"It's clearly the motorist's responsibility to be aware of these school zones," said Tom Norman, the state Department of Transportation's bicycle and pedestrian director. "They should be expecting children, and they should be prepared to stop well ahead of actually having the child in the walk directly in front of them."

Rachel, a fifth-grader at Lacy, has been walking to school since kindergarten. Sarah is in second grade.

Rachel walks alone on the mornings when she has safety-patrol duty in the Lacy carpool line. But Wooster still likes to walk both her daughters to school.

"They hate it when I try to take their hands, because they think they're too old for that," Wooster said.

"They're really good; they won't run out in the street like a 3-year-old. But I might see a car coming from farther off and realize that the driver has no intention of stopping for us."

It helps when police spend time ticketing violators near a school, as Raleigh officers did one afternoon last week in the Lacy neighborhood. Wooster figures she wasn't the only parent who called and asked police to do that. She hopes they'll come back.

"I'm happy to walk my children to school," she said, "but it's just scary."

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