Did you ever drive through a school zone on a Monday morning? You see the crossing guard with his 7-Eleven coffee, stop sign and reflectorized vest, preparing to ferry children across the street. You see all the kids scurrying to and fro, and the cars pulling in and out, dropping off their precious cargo, confident that the educators and caretakers entrusted with their progeny are going to do their jobs well and that their children are going to survive the day.
You, of course, slow to the posted school zone speed limit because children are clearly present, and then it happens. Some soccer mom climbs up the back end of your vehicle and glares at you. You see this through your rearview mirror and are momentarily taken aback.
You speak to the rearview mirror — “Really?” — as if logic may somehow pour out of your tailpipe and infect your pursuer before she impedes any further on your personal space bubble. “Jesus, lady — it’s a school zone!” you exclaim, as you realize you are spending more time looking in your rearview mirror than anywhere else.
You know slowing down more is a stupid move, and speeding up is 1) illegal, and 2) unsafe for the school children. But you do slow down just a bit, because your attention to the road is being diverted by the idiot behind you.
This was the situation facing me one recent morning. As I pulled into the left turn lane, this pillar of the community sped by me, honking, glaring and swearing. It was then that I noticed she had three children in her car. The juxtaposition would have only been more complete if she’d had a cellphone in her hand and a doobie hanging out of her mouth.
Presumably, given the time of day, and the crossing guards and all the children present, she was herself dropping her progeny off at school. I was not. My children are grown. I had no personal stake in slowing down to the posted speed limit in this particular school zone, or any school zone, for that matter. But slowing down in active school zones with children present is what I do.
As she sped by me through the intersection (with her precious cargo soaking up all the lessons to be learned in this chance encounter), I was dumbstruck. How could any mother think this was proper modeling behavior? Why do I care more about her children than she does?
According to a 1999 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, it was estimated that only five percent of pedestrians would die when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour or less. “This compares with fatality rates of 40, 80, and nearly 100 percent for striking speeds of 30, 40, and 50 miles per hour or more, respectively.”
Add to that the fact that children are more fragile than adults (and probably account for most of the five percent fatality rate at 20 mph), and we should all be able to understand the purpose behind slowing down in school zones, whether we have children or not.
The goal of lowering speed limits in school zones isn’t necessarily to reduce accidents, but to reduce child fatalities. I’m sure that accident rates are lower at lower speeds because motorist reaction times are improved at lower speeds, but that assumes that the motorist is looking in the direction in which they are driving.
Granted, I should be able to ignore the moron in my rearview mirror, but I’m a bit of a control freak and the lack of control inherent in tailgating puts me on edge.
So, with all this said, if you are out there (and you know who you are), try to behave in school zones as if you really can understand normal thinking.