Speed Kills: Why 15 MPH is Better for School Zones

24 Aug

It was a simple question posed to Gary Richards, aka Mr Roadshow at the San Jose Mercury News. His Tuesday column mentioned the new 15 mph speed limits for school zones in San Francisco, but didn’t take a stand. I posted a quick comment on the online edition: “Hey, Gary, you didn’t say whether you thought a 15-mph speed limit in school zones in San Francisco is a good idea. What do you think?” I never expected it would be the leading question for his Wednesday column.

Before I comment on Gary’s response, it’s only fair that I take a stand. It’s even simpler: speed kills. This is not an opinion, it’s a fact supported by studies worldwide. For both stopping distances and severity of crashes, speed matters. Look at this chart showing the effect of vehicle speed on pedestrian injury.

Speed dramatically affects stopping distance, which translates to collision avoidance. According to this report: “Traveling at 40 mph, the average driver who sights a pedestrian in the road 100 feet ahead will still be traveling 38 mph on impact: driving at 25 mph, the driver will have stopped before the pedestrian is struck.”

On my five mile morning commute from Mountain View to Palo Alto I ride my bike through school zones for four elementary schools. I don’t ride directly past any middle schools, but I see a dozen or more middle school aged kids riding to school from their homes a mile or two away. Unfortunately, I see few cars respect the 25 mph speed limit, until congestion sets in just before the school day begins. The prevailing attitude is that 5-10 miles over the speed limit is “normal.” It may be normal, but it’s not safe.

As a society, we’ve lost track of the fact that speed kills. If drivers slowed down by 10 mph, people walking or riding bikes would be a lot safer. So, my take on 15 mph speed limit: If it means that majority of drivers will slow down from 30 to 20 mph, then I’m all for it. I’m sure the families of the 40% fewer children who will be killed when a collision occurs would agree (see chart). Like the family of 4-year-old Christopher “Buddy” Rowe who was killed in a Santa Rosa crosswalk on his way to soccer practice. And I’m sure the kids who would avoid being hit by vehicles due to slower speeds would agree too.

What was Mr. Roadshow’s take? Gary wrote:

“I’m all for drivers slowing at school zones at all times of the day. I wish legislation would pass allowing photo radar cameras to be used on city streets, similar to programs once in place in Campbell and San Jose. Combine that with a 15-mph limit and you bet people would slow down. The big worry isn’t just the speed of motorists, but how they drive when dropping off or picking up kids — making illegal turns, double parking, yakking on cellphones, etc. If a lower speed limit would help make them more attentive, then I’m for it.”

Thanks, Gary, I agree. I’m proud you took a stand that will surely get you a lot of flack from your readers. Bravo!

Would you support a reduced speed limit in your neighborhood? Would you change your commute route to avoid a school zone?


Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Issues & Infrastructure


4 responses to “Speed Kills: Why 15 MPH is Better for School Zones

  1. PeterD

    August 24, 2011 at 8:30 am

    I definitely change driving routes to avoid any grade school around the time they start/finish, as the parents driving there do act pretty stupidly. I am with Mr. Roadhsow on that.

  2. ellycp

    August 24, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I bike with Ciaran to his preschool past an elementary school and a high school. It’s a long straight road and of course no-one obeys the speed limit. In Australia, they have strictly enforced school zones, I think it’s a 20 mph limit (actually its probably kph but I can’t remember what it is). According to our Aussie friend, you speed in a school zone, so get slammed with fines. I’m all for it. However, I’m also all for encouraging families to walk or bike to school if they can – I really noticed when the schools went back there were an insane number of cars on the road which surely makes it more dangerous for everyone: drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

    /soap box 😉

  3. djconnel

    August 24, 2011 at 10:02 am

    It’s ironic there’s a neurotic paranoia against children getting abducted, a very rare event by any standard, and almost reckless indifference over children getting run down by oversized, clumsy motor vehicles driven by inattentive operators, which is a daily occurrence in every state. It’s absurd by any metric that each child is delivered to and picked up from neighborhood schools by a parent in an SUV or mini-van. Nowhere else in the world is this the case.


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