Road markings were in the news again recently as a Corsham Councillor, Ruth Hopkinson, expressed concerns that the faded road markings around a local primary school were contributing to “appalling parking” and leading children to put themselves at risk as they attempt to cross the road unsafely, with parked cars obscuring their view.
Issues with inappropriate parking and road safety, especially around schools, are a common cause for complaints up and down the country. The fear of children being killed or injured by dangerous driving around schools, alongside the frustration of pedestrians having trouble navigating pavements and crossings due to inconsiderate parking, is an understandable source of anger amongst local communities.
Alongside punitive measures such as fines and penalties for drivers, clear, up-to-date road markings are often seen as a solution to help keep school children and pedestrians out of harm’s way. But why are road markings important around schools?
Clear Road Markings Discourage Poor Parking
It’s a human impulse to imagine that, under certain circumstances, our actions should be seen as the understandable exception to the rule. We may be told that parking in certain places is inappropriate, but whether we’re having a particularly stressful day or will “just be 5 minutes”, it’s easy for us to tell ourselves that in this particular case, it’s OK to bend the rules – even if we’d be quite annoyed to see someone else doing the same.
When you take this impulse and add a lot of harried parents into the mix, it becomes easy to see why the roads around schools can become the scene of parking chaos, and the result is an environment that is far less convenient and pleasant for pedestrians. Poor parking not only obscures people’s view as they attempt to cross the road – as highlighted by Ruth Hopkinson – it can take up valuable pavement space which makes it difficult to pass with buggies or wheelchairs.
What’s more, being surrounded by cars that are behaving erratically can make the environment outside of a school dangerous. When no-parking zones suddenly become full of cars, parents and children can’t be sure when a vehicle will swing into their path, and have to be vigilant even in areas that are meant to be safe. In cases where cars habitually stop on yellow zigzag lines or on zebra crossings, this becomes even more obstructive and dangerous.
A lack of road markings, or road markings which are faded, poorly applied or confusing, contribute to this issue in two ways. Firstly, it creates doubt for drivers, who may not be sure if they are allowed to park or not, or how watchful they need to be for people on foot. Secondly, when it comes to applying penalties, this doubt turns into “benefit of the doubt” – allowing drivers to avoid appropriate consequences for dangerous parking, and removing what might otherwise be an effective disincentive.
Clear road markings reinforce the rules of the road in people’s minds and stop driving standards from slipping. This prevents the domino effect where a few people start parking badly, and encourage others to do so.
Road Marking Infrastructure Keeps School Children Safe
Comprehensive and up-to-date pedestrian road markings not only ensure that drivers are encouraged to drive well, they give those on foot a much-needed means of navigating the road network safely. Whether they are zebra, puffin or pelican, pedestrian crossings are a key part of this.
The first pedestrian crossing signal was erected on Bridge Street, Westminster in December 1868, and the concept of creating safe passing places for walkers has been a part of our roads ever since. One fixture of British childhoods, the “Lollipop Lady”, adds another layer of safety to pedestrian crossings outside schools by acting as a warden for small children who may not yet entirely understand the rules of the road.
Road markings can also be used to reinforce speed limits, working to nudge people into better driving choices much in the same way they can prevent inconsiderate parking. People may generally be rule-abiding and responsible, but drive at 30 miles per hour in a 20 zone because they are late and they only spotted one small sign a hundred yards back saying “20”. Having the speed limit painted on the road forces drivers to think again about the rules and slow down.
This is all especially important in a context where children are likely to congregate in large numbers. Smaller children are less visible to cars, and both children and teens are often not yet fully capable of assessing the risks around them. By driving more carefully around schools, motorists give themselves the room to act appropriately should any child appear suddenly on the road.
Who is responsible for the roads around schools?
It is the school’s responsibility to assess and manage the risk presented by vehicle movements on the school site, and in its risk assessment, the school should also consider vehicle and pedestrian movements directly outside that are associated with any general school activity. Hand in hand with this action from schools is that of the local council, who are responsible for installing features such as crossings and ensuring children’s journey to school is as safe as possible.
However, there is a third factor on the roads around schools, and that is the motorists themselves. Whether we are dropping our kids off or simply passing by, it’s all our responsibility to ensure that this environment is one that’s safe and welcoming for children, and drive with the utmost care, caution and consideration to improve the experience for those on foot.