Parents’ dangerous driving at drop-off areas puts Toronto students at risk, study finds
Study finds increased chance of injury in and around schools in the morning rush as drivers break all the rules.
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The most dangerous part of a kid’s day may be during morning school drop-off.
Rushed parents’ litany of driving don’ts — from stopping in the middle of the road to let their children out or even on the opposite side of the street, forcing them to jaywalk amid busy traffic — puts young pedestrians at an increased risk of being hit by a car, a study by York University and the Hospital for Sick Children has found.
Researchers observed at least two instances of dangerous driving during the morning rush at 88 per cent of the Toronto public elementary schools they monitored.
“It’s a bit tough because we are not trying to put the blame on everybody, but people don’t stop to think about what the consequences of what they are doing will be — ‘it’s my child, I’m just stopping for a minute, I’m just double parking for a minute,’ ” said York University health professor Alison Macpherson.
The study looked at collisions, injury rates as well as parents’ driving habits during a typical day.
What they observed echoes what school board and traffic experts say they too have seen — parents doing U-turns in front of a school during rush hour, blocking wheelchair loading zones, not stopping or putting their car in park while their children exit, and then becoming testy with principals or traffic officers who challenge them.
One Toronto Catholic principal said he’s “learned a lot of colourful words” while policing parent drivers.
“We are busy, we are stressed, especially in the morning — people have to get to work and I understand that, I’m a working parent, too,” said Macpherson. “But we have to do whatever we can to make roads safer for everybody.”
Over a 12-year period, some 411 children in the areas studied were hit by a car within 200 metres of the school, and of those, 45 were during peak times. Of those, 29 — or 64 per cent — were rushed to hospital.
Each additional drop-off danger noted was associated with a 45-per-cent increase in collision rates, the study found.
“Many parents aren’t surprised (by the findings) — and we’re not saying this is causal,” Macpherson added. “But we did see where there were more of the behaviours, there was an increased risk of pedestrian collisions at those schools.”
Researchers also found that children pedestrians who live in less affluent areas were more likely to be exposed to the unsafe driving.
Experts say encouraging more kids to walk to school reduces the number of cars and congestion, and city officials say traffic calming measures like speed bumps can help, as do fluorescent school zone signs.
“Last year, in Bloor West we installed a flashing sign that said when it is flashing the speed limit is 40 kilometres, not 50” during the school day, said Myles Currie, the city of Toronto’s director of transportation services.
Both he and Toronto police traffic services said pedestrian collisions are down, though researchers say numbers have gone up for those ages 4 to 12.
Macpherson noted that parents followed the road rules at about 12 per cent of schools, “so it’s a modifiable risk factor,” she added.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board and city are in the midst of creating a pilot project that would designate safe drop-off areas away from schools, cutting down on traffic jams in front while also encouraging kids to walk together a block or two to get to class.
City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Beaches-East York) is hoping to hold a safety blitz at Bowmore public school to educate families, because, like other schools across the city, “there’s a real problem with parents driving away too quickly, dropping kids off in harrowing situations where they just open the door and run across the street.”
Dr. Andrew Howard, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children involved in the study and longer-term look at child pedestrian safety, said because kids are vulnerable, “we want to make sure the environment is safe.”
“This is fixable,” he added. “Road traffic is one of the biggest children’s diseases in Canada, but you don’t need to know about DNA or microbes to sort it out.”