School Carpool Lanes Can Be a Danger Zone

Doing the math, I’m surprised by how many times I’ve driven through my kids’ school carpool lane: two to three times per day for the past nine years. And, in that time, the amount of disregard that I’ve seen parents have for the safety of their child passengers while under the perceived safety net of the school zone is shocking.

I regularly see parents allowing their kids to unbuckle from their child-safety seats, hang their bodies out of the car window and wave to their friends or stand out of the sunroof to greet their buddies.

I’ve even seen one child sitting on mom’s lap “helping” her steer through the school’s parking lot. Can you imagine what would happen if that mom were rear-ended, causing the airbag to deploy while her daughter was on her lap?

I would hope that common sense tells most of us that if the car is moving — even at a stop-and-go rate — there’s a danger of getting into a collision. All the safety rules that we follow while going 70 mph down the highway should also apply to the school zone or carpool lane.

Unfortunately, that common sense is escaping many of us. A distracted driving study by SafeKids USA observed drivers in 20 active school zones across 15 states, including my own state of Colorado.

School zones with a lowered speed limit showed a higher percentage of distracted drivers compared with school zones without a lowered speed limit.

The study found that one in six drivers was distracted, and by a variety of activities:

  • Using cell phones and electronics
  • Eating, drinking and smoking
  • Reaching or looking behind
  • Grooming
  • Reading
In the study, school zones with a lowered speed limit showed a higher percentage of distracted drivers compared with school zones without a lowered speed limit. This supports my experience: the idea that some parents think pulling through the carpool lane slowly is a license to loosen up usually sharp judgment.

This school zone safety study didn’t account for other distraction factors, such as our emotional and mental state (flustered after your hubby just called to tell you he’s running late and will miss the science fair this year … again?) or cognitive distractions, such as listening to the radio, or trying to ignore an irrational toddler in the backseat.

According to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study in 1995, 18 percent of crashes in urban areas occurred when a vehicle that was stopped, or in the process of stopping, was struck from the rear. Unfortunately, school zones and carpool lanes are not immune to this statistic.
For parents to think their kids are invincible while pulling through carpool lane — and slacking off on all the normal safety rules we’d implement in the car any other time — is a potentially deadly oversight.
Kristin Varela is the senior family editor at

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