New legislation and millions planned to improve safety for students walking to school
Nov 9, 2023, 12:20 PM | Updated: 1:11 pm
KEARNS – Many Utahns would like to slow down the drivers who speed through their communities. Amid a rash of students getting hit by cars, neighbors may soon have more options to do that.
A Kearns neighborhood has the proof, with a newly installed flashing crosswalk in front of Kearns Junior High School.
“They’re saving lives every day. It is a blessing to have these,” said Jamie, whose grandson Jerico attends the school.
She used to worry about Jerico every time he would try to cross the busy road, even with the help of crossing guards.
“It makes us feel safer. They give us peace of mind that we won’t get hit as easily,” Jerico said.
Community members, with the help of Kearns city leaders, applied for and received a Utah Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School grant that paid the $80,000 bill to improve the crosswalk.
Each year, UDOT has more than $2 million available for communities that want to make safety improvements and apply for grants.
“It shows people care for their community and the students and their safety in getting to school,” said Travis Evans, active transportation safety program manager for UDOT.
Evans says they also allocate an additional $4 million in highway safety projects as they review routes and areas to make systemic improvements. By law, each school must identify and provide maps of their safest walking routes throughout the neighborhood. The goal is to get students to reap the benefits of walking and riding to school.
“We try to encourage them to get out, but we want them to do it safely,” said Lyenna Kemp, Safe Routes outreach specialist.
So, in addition to improving routes, UDOT teaches kids to be better pedestrians through gamified safe route assemblies.
“We really want to emphasize for them to pay attention and make eye contact with those drivers because a lot of drivers aren’t paying attention to our pedestrians,” Kemp said.
Here again, UDOT provides its training to any school that requests it. So far this school year, they’ve put on 154 assemblies for more than 41,000 students.
Safety efforts don’t just involve schools.
“We need to change driver behavior, too,” said Rep. Brett Garner. The Democrat represents parts of West Valley City and Taylorsville and serves as the PTA president at his children’s elementary school.
He plans to introduce legislation for a pilot program of automated speed cameras in some school and construction zones. If the measure passes, cameras would capture the license plates of speeding drivers. They’d first get a warning. The next time? A ticket.
“We’ve unfortunately seen accidents of crossing guards and of students hurt, sometimes killed, and we need to make some changes,” he said.
Eighteen states have implemented photo radar, including neighboring states Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. According to police, Paradise Valley, Arizona, saw an overall 50% reduction in traffic collisions.
New Mexico just last year installed the cameras and the number of speeders dropped on some streets by 88%.
“It’s working to reduce speeds in these vulnerable areas,” Garner said.
At the end of the day, all the lights and legislation and brave crossing guards can only do so much. Lawmakers and educators hope we’ll all remember we play a role in keeping students and pedestrians safe.
“Everyone has to care. It’s not just the drivers, it’s not just the pedestrians. Everyone has to do their part,” Evans said.
This story is part of an ongoing KSL TV initiative called “Stop for Students.” We encourage all Utahns to share their stories and solutions as we work together to prevent more pedestrian tragedies in our state. Show your support and spread the word by requesting a decal of your own.