School Traffic Safety: why won’t parents learn?

In NSW the Police and school principals are appealing to motorists and parents to refrain from dangerous driving behaviour in and around schools.  In just the first four days of this school year, there has been a 17% increase in the number of motorists caught speeding and a 24% rise in illegal parking infringements issued in school zones.

Last Wednesday Police launched ‘Operation Compliance’, targeting mobile phone use and speeding in school zones and school crossing offences. Principals are urging parents through newsletters and school communications to slow down and stop breaking the law.

Assistant Commissioner John Hartley told the Sydney Morning Herald “Each day during the week, our children, their parents, siblings, teachers and other staff go to and from school expecting a safe journey.  Sadly, this has not been the case as we have seen last year.”

School traffic safety:  Are parents getting the message?

School traffic - Parking & Traffic Consultants
Image courtesy of Great Lakes Council safety initiative

Over the last decade, school management has faced increasing pressure in trying to manage driver behaviour.  Three children under the age of 16 have died within a school zone.  Outside of school zones but within the times of drop off (8.00-9.30) and pick up (14.30-16.00) ten children under the age of 16 have also died; on average, 131 pedestrians under the age of 16 are injured each year in NSW during the same drop off and pick up periods (data received from the Policy and Regulation Division of Transport for NSW).

During the last few weeks, our team have been speaking with school parents to see what they see as the most risky driver around their schools.

Unanimously the worst behaviour involves parents performing illegal three-point-turns in front schools during drop-off and pick-ups.

On the last school day of 2013 this was exactly the type of driver behaviour which killed a kindergarten aged child in front of Carlingford Primary school.  However, according to the Principal Neil Hinton, there are still daily incidents of careless driving.  Several concerned parents wrote to the Principal and the following was included in the school newsletter:

“Most people are on some kind of hectic schedule at drop off and pick up and parking is extremely limited but that cannot be a reason to make illegal and reckless manoeuvres that endanger the kids such as U-turns over the solid centre lines or via the driveways, double parking or reversing against the flow of traffic.”

While the Police and Transport NSW work to eliminate speeding and mobile phone usage in school zones, what can be done to change parent driver behaviour when it comes to illegal U-turns?  Our team propose there are three possible interventions.

Illegal U-turns – prevention, provision or peer pressure


School Traffic - No U Turns

An ideal prevention to illegal U-turns in front of schools would be to install a barrier either as a raised median strip or to include a fenced partition.  A fenced partition also directs pedestrians to safe crossings rather than having parents and children randomly attempting to cross the road in front of schools.


As many NSW schools are situated in close proximity to local residents, a raised median or barrier would inhibit the ability to access their residences or the road from their homes.  Another intervention which could be applied in suburban areas to encourage drivers to behave safely would be the provision of a roundabout within reasonable distance from the school.  Thus providing a controlled mechanism for drivers to turn.

Peer Pressure:

Principals can use their parent communications to reiterate correct, safe and legal driver behaviour.  However, parent peer pressure could enforce a more lasting effect on the school community.  Our team will tell you, watch the difference in driver behaviour the day before and the day after a school has enlisted the help of Council Rangers or Police to monitor driver behaviour.  Again unanimously driver behaviour dramatically improves.  However, within a week the same old behaviours creep back in.  Our proposed solution is consistent peer pressure on parents.  In January our blog post “School Traffic: How much can Sydney take? “ discussed the School drop off and pick up initiative offered through Transport NSW’s Centre for Road Safety.  Below is an outline of the advantages the initiative offers:

  • Provides a designated zone at a school access point for drivers to stop and drop off or pick-up their children
  • Relieves traffic congestion around the school by ensuring cars do not park illegally
  • Provides adult supervision for students being dropped off and picked up from school by car
  • Allows smaller children to remain secured in the car while school age children are dropped off and picked up from school
  • Reinforces road safety messages and safe passenger behaviours to parents and children

After all there is nothing like a high-vis official with a vest and notepad to encourage good driver behaviour.  The Initiative provides a low to no-cost school and parent intervention in dangerous parking and driver behaviours.

Overall no one option in controlling parking and traffic behaviour will be a cookie-cutter solution for every school.  Each school has their own unique set of issues, traffic environment and congestion demands.  Parent education is an obvious starting point, and perhaps pre-kindy and kindergarten is the perfect time for effective education strategies to begin.


Related article:

Back to school: how to improve traffic and safety


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