New Study Ranks Wyoming Worst in Nation for School Zone Crashes
One hundred and eleven people die annually in school-transportation-related crashes. One hundred and eleven people - enough to fill three school classrooms to the brim. This harrowing statistic comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) latest report issued in June 2023 of this year.
A new study by injury attorney firm Bader Scott reveals that Wyoming holds the unfortunate record for the highest percentage of pedestrians and cyclists involved in crashes in school zones in the United States. The study analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) between 2014 and 2021 to assess where such accidents were most present in the country.
Wyoming's Shocking School Zone Crash Rate
Data from NHTSA indicates that Wyoming's school zone crash rate sits at nearly 3% - 2.94%, to be precise. Conversely, in the densely populated state of Washington, whose 7.7 million population is more than thirteen times that of Wyoming, the rate was zero.
"This study is a clear indication of the most dangerous states in the US for pedestrians and cyclists in school zones, and for many families, it might be shocking to see that whether you live in a highly populated state like New York or one of the least populated states like Wyoming, the number of people in the state is irrelevant when it comes to fatalities in school areas." said a representative from Bader Scott.
Moving Toward a Safer School Zone in Wyoming
"It is appalling to hear those kinds of statistics, and if this doesn't open people's eyes, I don't know what will. Watching people the way they drive through school zones is scary. Something has to change," said Janelle Jones, head of 4Mak and non-profit and mother of Makaili (Mak) Evans, a young McCormic Jr. High (Cheyenne, WY) student who passed away in 2021 after being struck by a vehicle while on the school's crosswalk. Makaili's tragic death resonated through the community, spurring the creation of the 4Mak movement that champions creating safer school zones for kids in Cheyenne and across Wyoming.
"Students should never have to worry about getting to school safely," said Jones. She, along with other community members and leaders, attend Safe Routes to School Meetings alongside Laramie County School District 1 representatives and city engineers to work towards addressing safety concerns in school zones.
For Jones, who has worked tirelessly with the 4Mak movement to raise awareness of school zone safety issues in Cheyenne and Wyoming, there are three parts to making school routes safer across the state.
- Infrastructure - Improving safe routes to walk or bike to school with changes like crosswalk lights, parking prohibitions, etc.
- Driver responsibility - "We need to ensure drivers realize that they need to slow down and be aware of their surroundings AND educate students and drivers on how to cross streets, how to stop at crosswalks, etc." explains Jones. Reiterating driver responsibility in the Drivers Ed. Classrooms and enforcing speeding tickets are a few ways to emphasize driver responsibility.
- Crossing Guards - "And, most importantly, we need to advocate for crossing guards in school zones. I'm 90% sure or better that my son would be alive today if we had crossing guards and people that were there to help children get across the street," said Jones.
The need for improved safety routes is being addressed in Cheyenne. Community representatives have toured Fort Collins' school district to see their "highly successful" safe routes to school program, according to Jones. Further, community members - including Ms. Jones - have gone out of their way to educate the community. Makaili's mother attends Laramie County Community College's driver education courses to share her story with students, "So many lives change when you make a choice like that, to take your eyes off the road for two seconds. We need to place more value on human lives just by being [more] aware."
Other community members have stepped up to raise awareness by seeking state support for improvements, volunteering for the 4Mak 5K, and volunteering for school crosswalk duty. At this time, a safety audit is reviewing data from LCSD1 parents to find out where they see problem spots in the district. The data will provide a roadmap to show what changes need to happen along school routes.
For Janelle Jones and fellow parents, improving school zone safety isn't an option; it's a necessity. "We should all be advocating for the kids who don't have a choice but to walk to and from school. It's our duty to make sure they can get to school safely. I hope that it's making a difference in Cheyenne and across the state."
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