School Zone Safety Guide: Signs, Beacons, Markings, and How to Get Funding

Roadways in and around school zones are, unfortunately, a dangerous place for pedestrians—including children. The Transportation Research Board reports that, every year:

  • 25,000 children are injured in school zone accidents.
  • 100 children, or more, are killed in collisions while walking to or from school.

Children aren’t the only victims. 80% of pedestrians hit by a vehicle inside a school zone are adults.

School zone safety is a priority for every agency. The good news is that we now know the reasons why school zones are so dangerous, which enables strategic school zone traffic plans. Agencies also have access to a variety of school zone signs, beacons, RRFBs, and more, which have all been proven to improve safety in school zones.

Why are school zones so dangerous?

Roadways and intersections near schools are a perfect storm of pedestrian safety concerns:

  • Crowded spaces — Especially in the half-hour immediately before and after school hours, school zones experience a high concentration of cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
  • Distracted driversOne in six drivers are distracted inside school zones. Adolescent and adult drivers alike are distracted by smartphones and looking for specific faces in a sea of students.
  • Autopilot drivers — “Autopilot driving” happens when drivers effectively tune out, on familiar routes. Drivers on “autopilot” are much less attentive, and one study reported that 7% of drivers experience autopilot driving “on the school run.”
  • Small children near roadways — Elementary school children’s behavior is frequently associated with accidents in school zones, including running into roadways, crossing behind buses, etc.
  • Distracted pedestrians — Teenagers are increasingly walking through school zones distracted by headphones and/or smartphones. One study observed 1 in 4 high school students as distracted pedestrians.

Creating a school zone traffic plan

Creating or updating a school zone traffic plan will look different for every agency—and possibly for each distinct school zone. There are a few key considerations to work through, however, to make sure your plan is thorough:

  • Map the walk zone — Some agencies define the school walk zone boundaries specifically, but if yours does not, consider a one-half to one-mile radius around the school the “walk zone.”
  • Map the school zone — The school zone is considered the roadways immediately surrounding the school property, and up to two blocks away in every direction.
  • Map existing school zone safety measures — Make sure your map displays existing school zone signs, crosswalks, crossing guards, pedestrian beacons, etc.
  • Review previous incidents — Mark known, “high risk” zones and intersections on the map as well. Where have collisions and accidents happened in the past?
  • Discover current high-risk areas — Use whatever cameras and monitoring equipment your agency has to monitor school zones. Look for especially busy intersections, roadways within school zones where motorists fail to slow down, and where pedestrians commonly cross roadways outside of marked crosswalks.

Mapping these insights on the same document will provide the insights you need to plan pavement markings, signs, beacons, flashers, enforcement, and more.

School zone warning signs with beacons

Most school zone pedestrian collisions happen mid-block, not at an intersection. Further, the slightest increase in speed at the time of a pedestrian collision has a dramatic effect on survivability.

  • At 20 MPH, the survivability rate of a pedestrian collision is 95%.
  • At 30 MPH, the survivability rate of a pedestrian collision is 60%.

It’s crucial that drivers know the boundaries of a school zone, and feel the urgency of the slower speed limit.

One of the best ways to make sure drivers are aware of school zone boundaries, and the reduced speed limits, is school zone warning signs with beacons and LEDs. Studies show that flashing school zone signs reduce average driver speeds up to seven miles per hour. That may not seem dramatic, but the survivability rates above demonstrate how crucial those seven miles per hour can be.

LED-Enhanced School Zone Signs

LED-enhanced signs increase visibility and driver compliance. Stop signs, crosswalk signs, school zone signs, and school zone speed limit signs with built-in LED flashers increase urgency and snap drivers out of autopilot driving. High-intensity LED lights are visible in any condition.

The LEDs on these school zone signs are powered by solar or AC power. They can also be programmed to operate via pedestrian activation, passive activation, calendar function, or 24-7.

School Zone Beacons

Drivers often fail to slow down within school zones, because they don’t know when reduced speed limits are in effect. Round, flashing school zone beacons are a simple, effective way to alert drivers that school zone speed limits are active.

Carmanah, a leading manufacturer of traffic beacons and sign systems, offers a variety of beacons—from 13w to ITE intensity. Each unit is solar and/or AC powered, self-contained, and easily programmable.

School Zone Safety Case Study

Western Systems partnered with Washington County to bring 150 school zone flashers under one smart system

Washington County, Oregon, manages roughly 150 school zone flashers for agencies across the county. They relied heavily on public complaints to monitor the beacons, maintenance needs were routinely piled up, and programming each school year took about a month.

Western Systems partnered with Washington County to upgrade the existing school zone flashers hardware to work with Applied Information’s cloud-based Glance system.

The Glance system enables remote scheduling, smart alerts for user-defined criteria, power monitoring, and lamp failure warnings. Additionally,  it works with existing hardware by adding a small device that fits into the cabinet, so installation is simple.

The benefits of the new systems were realized almost immediately. Read the complete case study to learn how Washington County is saving time and money with connected school zone beacons.

RRFBs: Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons

Rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs) are user-activated, rectangular LED lights that flash in an irregular pattern to alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians in a crosswalk—even where drivers are accustomed to ignoring round school zone beacons. The directional, high-intensity lights are visible in any conditions.

RRFBs have been proven to:

  • Increase driver yields by up to 96%.
  • Reduce pedestrian collisions by 47%.

Carmanah manufactures a variety of RRFBs that are solar-powered or solar/AC powered. All of the RRFB units are self-contained and easily installed on existing signposts. The units can even be upgraded to include passive detection, low-power audible push button stations, and remote monitoring. Carmanah has specifically designed their LEDs and drivers to maximize brightness while minimizing power consumption, making them the highest performance solar-powered beacons available today.

Radar Speed Signs for School Crossing Safety

We’ve seen that the slightest increase in driver speed can have a significant effect on survival rates in the event of a pedestrian collision. Radar speed signs, or driver feedback signs, are one of the most effective traffic calming tools—proven to reduce driver speeds by up to nine miles per hour.

The SpeedCheck-15 is one of the most commonly installed in school zones because its ultra-bright display is clearly visible even in bright sunlight. It also delivers wireless, two-way communication for setup, diagnostics, upgrades, and traffic data analysis. All of this is built into a ruggedized and vandal-proof enclosure capable of withstanding the harshest of environments.

Pavement Markings

Pavement markings are a valuable addition to school zone signage to further improve safety.

Marked crosswalks encourage pedestrians to cross roadways in designated areas—often where beacons and other traffic control measures are in place. Reducing the number of mid-block crossings can reduce the number of pedestrian collisions.

Additionally, lettered pavement markings can alert drivers that they are still in a school zone, even though the sign is past them. Common stencils include: SLOW, 25 MPH, and SCHOOL X-ING.

National guidelines for school zone pavement markings can be found in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), but many state and local agencies have additional requirements.

Funding for School Crossing Safety

As your team begins to create or update a school zone traffic safety plan, the question of funding will usually come up. School zone safety is, obviously, a very worthy investment, and the signs, beacons, and LEDs manufactured by Carmanah are all built to last (many with warranties guaranteeing them for several years). But the initial cost must be accounted for.

Fortunately, there are funding solutions including:

  • Safe routes to school grant program – Safe Routes to School is part of the national Safe Routes program and offers grants to agencies that are trying to improve school zone safety.
  • Section 402 grants – These national grants are awarded to agencies for a variety of roadway safety initiatives, including reducing speed, improving pedestrian safety, and improving enforcement of traffic safety laws.

School Zone Safety Signs that Work

School zones are, by their nature, dangerous places for pedestrians of all ages. Distracted or autopilot drivers, high traffic congestion, and a high concentration of distracted or young pedestrians requires extra precaution.

School zone signs, beacons, RRFBs, and pavement markings have all been proven to improve school zone safety by reducing driver speeds, increasing awareness, and encouraging safe habits. A thorough strategy and the right equipment really can make a profound difference.

Western Systems works with agencies and engineers to understand their unique challenges and design a smart, efficient system for each school zone.

Call 425.438.1133 to connect with one of our team members or contact Western Systems online to get started.