Kids Head Back to School — And Parents Return to Their Killing Machines

Walking to school is still the safest way to get there. Photo: Angie Schmitt
Walking to school is still the safest way to get there. Photo: Angie Schmitt

Finally some concrete evidence that the school pick-up and drop-off routine is indeed a safety hazard.

A new study by the data firm Zendrive helps confirm that risky driving behavior peaks around the times children are arriving and leaving schools around the country every day — creating a dangerous situation right when children are most vulnerable.

Zendrive collected reams of data on driver behavior around schools, using information gathered from 9 million drivers’ cell phones during April 2018. The study tracked “risky behaviors” — like cell phone use, speeding, and sudden braking or fast acceleration — using sensors already present in the phones. The risky behaviors were then matched to the physical locations within one-quarter mile of 125,000 U.S. schools. (You can check the safety of your school here.)

At a fifth of schools, drivers were engaging in an average of two risky behaviors per trip. The hour between 3 and 4 p.m. — as school lets out — was the most risky time for students, when drivers were near the peak of bad behavior. This tracks with U.S. DOT data showing the 3-4 p.m. hour is the most deadly for schoolchildren.

Graph: Zendrive
Graph: Zendrive

The most common behavior Zendrive recorded was hard braking, followed by cell phone use while driving.

Across the country, city schools performed worst overall, with higher risk driving 32 percent more likely compared to rural areas. But urban schools also improved more than suburban and rural.

New York City was among the most improved compared to last year’s analysis. Manhattan went from being the worst county in the whole country — an “F” — to 1030th worst, or a solid “C-.” Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx all had impressive improvements as well. In a single year they advanced from 3rd, 4th and 8th worst in the nation, to 273rd, 355th and 832nd worst in the nation. zendrive 2

Zendrive says that’s typical. City schools tend to have more dangerous driving around them — but they have also been improving their safety scores more quickly than rural and suburban schools, as cities like New York embrace Vision Zero. (This data comes from April when New York City’s speeding cameras in school zones were still active. The speed cameras will return in time for the first day of school on Wednesday.)

Nationally however, driving behavior around schools has been getting worse. Zendrive reports only 10 percent of schools showed a year-over-year improvement in driver behavior. In 30 percent of schools it got worse. In another 60 percent there was no change.

40 thoughts on Kids Head Back to School — And Parents Return to Their Killing Machines

  1. Anecdotally this matches what I observe when passing about six schools during my commute. The Pickov-Andropov Circus would be entertaining if it were not for the small students exposed to looming danger. Both parents and students seem harried, literally cutting corners to get to class on time. The greatest danger seems to be parents aggressively pulling into and out of curb spots.

    While it is good that most USA schools have 25MPH zones in effect during school hours, we might want to impose even stricter speed limits (15MPH?) during the drop off and pick up periods.

  2. So your cell phone can record your hard braking (presumably acceleration and speeding as well) and use while driving, but the companies that sell the devices won’t program them to go on standby while the vehicle is moving. They know they’ve created an addictive device, they know it’s illegal and deadly to drive while engaged (hands on or off), but they’re not charged or sued when the inevitable injuries and deaths occur. Sounds like the deal automobile and gun manufacturers got.

  3. Add in the increasing horsepower of cars and SUVs. A Volvo hybrid SUV has 400hp — wtf??? Going 0-60 in 5 seconds — you just barely touch the pedal — is a recipe for pedestrian deaths. Most SUVs have very high bumpers, so kids are going under the car when struck, not onto the hood. And now they come with Bull Bars, which have to be even more deadly to pedestrians.

  4. I’ve been complaining about this for years. Today’s cars are grossly overpowered for any level of driver training, let alone the poor training US drivers receive. I’m all in favor of limiting power-to-weight ratios to 20 HP per ton. No sane driving cycle requires more than that.

  5. It cuts both ways however. A more powerful car can pass in less time, and therefore more safely. It can accelerate out of a dangerous situation better.

    And high-performance cars have better steering, suspension and brakes, which again can all increase safety.

    Anyone who has been passing and then had someone swerve into their path knows the value of powerful acceleration, braking and dead-on steering.

  6. Perhaps but the times more power might be helpful are easily outweighed by the times when it’s too dangerous. Also, only a well-trained driver will know about accelerating out of a dangerous situation. Most drivers on the road have poor levels of training. Too much power is a only a negative to them.

  7. I’m glad our school pickup happens in a one-way, single lane alley where cars have to queue up and go very slowly to pick up. Unfortunately, our school is surrounded by high speed arteries. So while pickup and dropoff are relatively safe – when the kids walk away from the school in any direction they have to navigate a lot of stuff. If we didn’t have crossing guards it’d be deadly at start and end of school day.

  8. I don’t know about higher traffic speeds – but the SUV thing creates an arms race. If you’re buying a new car and you know that most of the cars on the roads these days are 4,000 lb+ behemoths, you’re going to be worried about being in a little car. So you might be inclined to get an SUV to protect yourself from other SUV’s. And it becomes a cycle.

    Wagons and minivans are more fuel efficient and lighter but everyone wants a truck these days.

  9. True. But it’s really about power to weight, not just raw power, right? I don’t think good acceleration, steering, suspension and braking require a lot of weight, do they?

    But size does improve safety – for better and for worse. So people will choose size for safety if nothing else.

  10. Overall size doesn’t improve safety. It may marginally do so for the occupants of the vehicle (or not, depending on vehicle design), but at the expense of making safety worse for everyone else.

    5-point harnesses and energy dissipation zones are the best path to safety. Moreover, they work better with lighter vehicles as there’s less energy to dissipate. That’s why Indy car drivers can walk away from a 200 mph crash into a wall.

    My recommended 20 HP/ton provides good enough acceleration for any sane driving cycle. It’s enough to go from 0 to 60 mph in about 25 seconds, provided the vehicle has good aerodynamics. Lower power-to-weigh ratios also serve a second function. They force streamlining. Without it, such a vehicle probably couldn’t go much over 70 or 80 mph. The streamlining greatly improves efficiency over the boxy designs which are currently in vogue.

  11. Does the statistical data really show that higher powered vehicles have less collisions with pedestrians? Reference please.

  12. I guess the size and safety correlation is debatable. I see a fair amount of conclusions from reputable sources that size does improves safety for the occupants. ( I would agree that the occupants are not the only stakeholders from a safety perspective and that size may decrease safety for pedestrians and people not in behemoths. 🙂 . I’m not advocating for bigger cars. I would love to see cars get smaller and lighter. In fact I sometime wonder if we wouldn’t all be safer if cars were made REALLY light. Kind of how football pads make the game of football more dangerous because all the players hit harder with pads on.

  13. I think we would all be MUCH safer if all cars were really light. Of course, you’ll still have trucks. However, the weight disparity between trucks and passenger vehicles is so huge for all intents and purposes it doesn’t matter if you’re in an SUV or a very light vehicle when an 18-wheeler hits you. Either way, you’ll likely be dead.

  14. Straw man. I never made the claim you attribute to me.

    What I said is that more power in a vehicle can give you an extra safety margin. Do you have proof to the contrary?

  15. Yes, a SUV is safer for the driver, even if less safe for others. Most people value their own life higher than that of strangers.

    More power and better handling and stopping certainly feels safer. Not sure anyone could convinced me that driving a small gutless under-powered hatchback makes me safer

  16. In cities you really don’t get to use that power anyway, but the better stopping power and handling are always useful.

    I’d agree that drivers should get better training. But I feel safer in a vehicle operating at 20% of its potential rather than 90% of its potential

  17. That’s really it in a nutshell, isn’t it. You care about your own safety. Most people who read this advocacy blog care about the greater good and by extension the safety of all.

  18. No, most people who read this blog value their lifestyle over the vast majority who drive.

    I don’t mind you being selfish but don’t dress it up as some holier-than-thou sanctimonious bullshit

  19. Yep, that’s the trend I’ve seen in my neighborhood over the last 5 years – more SUVs, more distracted driving, more speeding, more drivers running stop signs and red lights.

  20. Having a smaller, more maneuverable car can make it easier to avoid some potential crashes. That’s been my experience over many years driving in a few large metro areas. I’ll take my Honda Civic over an SUV any day.

  21. OK, so you did not have a point, as I suspected and exposed.

    As I said, most people are selfish That includes you, evidently.

  22. Passenger phone access was the issue, but there are a couple of ways to lock the phone for the driver – proximity to sensors in the driver’s seat and steering wheel, for instance.

    It wouldn’t apply to older vehicles, of course, but it could be a simple, implementable solution for new models.

  23. How would the car even know which phone a driver is using?

    If my car stopped me from using my phone I would simply have a second phone in the vehicle.

    And what about emergencies where I need to call 911 and the car stops me?

    The idea will not work and people will always find a way around it

  24. Proximity to the driver’s seat (and perhaps steering wheel) would lock the phone.

    It’s a fair enough point to say that this would not be 100% foolproof – you could easily argue another workaround by simply not driving a vehicle with this technology – but what else would you suggest that is impervious to loopholes and allows passenger use of a phone?

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