Students across the country are gearing up and heading back to school. Kids are reuniting with friends they haven’t seen since June; others are distracted by showing off new clothes; and some of the youngest are navigating their way to class for the very first time. In this post, we explore five important things to keep in mind, as we start back into school zone season.

1. The Vulnerability of Pedestrians in School Zones

Drop-off and pick-up times are frantic for just about everyone. Parents are in a rush to get off to their daily duties, and traffic around schools is chaotic. The temptation to break the rules of the road can be huge. In 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported over 150,000 injuries in the US each year, related to school day transportation. Between 2000 and 2005, there were 2,717 collisions involving children in the City of Toronto alone, with most happening within 0 – 150 meters of a school zone. Not surprisingly, the highest risk times for collisions was during pick-up and drop-off times.

2. Drivers Are Generally Presumed To Be At Fault

If a motor vehicle hits a pedestrian, the driver is generally presumed to be at fault, and the onus is theirs to prove otherwise. In many provinces, this presumption of fault has been written into legislation, such as section 186(1) of Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act, which requires drivers to prove that a pedestrian’s damages resulting from the motor vehicle accident was not due to the driver’s negligence.

3. Jaywalking Children Are Reasonably Foreseeable

Drivers are held to a higher standard of care in areas where a “reasonable person” would expect children to be cutting across the street, popping out of vehicles, or distracted from the regular rules of the road. In the BC Court of Appeal case of Walter v. Plummer, the court noted that drivers have a higher duty to be vigilant in areas where it is known that students might be jaywalking. Drivers are expected to proceed in an “alerted” state through these areas.

4. Children Can Be Found To Share The Blame

Although drivers are generally presumed to be negligent, and bear the onus to prove otherwise, children can still share some/all of the blame for their injuries. This is a concept known as “contributory negligence.” In Alberta, we look to the Contributory Negligence Act, when determining the degrees of fault between parties.

In the 1992 case of Lee v. Barker, British Columbia’s Court of Appeal endorsed a finding that a 12 year old boy was 80 percent at fault for running into the side of a moving car on his way home from school. The Court acknowledged there was very little the driver could have done between the time the boy stepped out onto the road and the moment of impact.

5. Parents Can Share The Blame Too

Children take many safety/risk cues from their parents, and as such, parents who fail to meet the standard of a “reasonably prudent parent” may also share some of the blame for a school zone accident. The 2013 case of Taggart V. Heuchert involved a negligent parenting third-party claim, as the motorist tried (unsuccessfully) to offload some of the blame for a 2006 accident that seriously injured a 10 year old girl. The motorist alleged the girl’s mother “had failed to teach her daughter how to cross roads safely… and failed to supervise her properly.”

Pedestrian accidents in school zones, particularly those involving children, are a tragedy no driver or parent wants to face. Injuries to children can have life-long ramifications, not only to the child but also to their families.