getting to and from school

National safety reports and statistics about school transportation imply that the safest mode of school transportation is walking and the second safest is the use of school buses. If you read reports commissioned by bus companies, they claim buses are safest and walking is second. Bicycles are frequently unsafe for children’s travel because of automobile drivers. The least safe method is automobiles, but there is special notice made of the fact that the most dangerous method of transportation is unquestionably teenage drivers in personal automobiles. Let’s apply that information locally.

At the elementary schools, there is a rapidly increasing use of parents driving their children to schools instead of walking them or allowing them to use buses. It is easy to guess the reasons. It’s more comfortable, easier and faster. Call any local elementary school and ask them to tell you about their struggles with the increasing carpool usage (and rule breakage). Middle school students are most likely to ride buses. Maybe parents feel their children are older and stronger. The age group which does the most walking is actually the high schoolers. Just guessing, I would attribute this to desires for independence. But, the most used method of transportation for high schoolers is teen drivers and often, with multiple unrelated teens in the same car.

Now let’s add in the proposed new school zones. Obviously, buses will be traveling farther and spending more time on the roads. That is an increased cost to the school system that comes on the heels of the past two years when bus routes were consolidated to try and reduce transportation costs. Increased time on school buses and in many cases, more dangerous roads to travel creates more danger to students. In many Knox county communities, walking to school will be eliminated from students’ options. Environmentally and physically, this is devastating. That leaves cars. Suddenly, full parking lots will overflow into neighborhoods as schools are filled with teens who live too far from the school to even consider walking. Teen drivers will now be spending far more time on roads that are far less familiar to them. Psychologically, teens will be in unfamiliar territory and their reactions to it will vary greatly. It is easy to imagine dangerous, false bravado driving. Everyone in Knoxville could be affected by the increased road traffic during morning commute times.

“Each year approximately 800 school-aged children are killed in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours. This figure represents about 14 percent of the 5,600 child deaths that occur annually on U.S. roadways and 2 percent of the nation’s yearly total of 40,000 motor vehicle deaths. Of these 800 deaths, about 20 (2 percent)—5 school bus passengers and 15 pedestrians—are school bus–related. The other 98 percent of school-aged deaths occur in passenger vehicles or to pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcyclists. A disproportionate share of these passenger vehicle–related deaths (approximately 450 of the 800 deaths, or 55 percent) occur when a teenager is driving. At the same time, approximately 152,000 school-age children are nonfatally injured during normal school travel hours each year. More than 80 percent (about 130,000) of these nonfatal injuries occur in passenger vehicles; only 4 percent (about 6,000) are school bus–related (about 5,500 school bus passengers and 500 school bus pedestrians), 11 percent (about 16,500) occur to pedestrians and bicyclists, and fewer than 1 percent (500) are to passengers in other buses.”

The new school zoning is unsafe and expensive. If it passes, it is going to cost all of the school board members their jobs.

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