Pedestrian safety is paramount, and we as responsible drivers should be aware of the most likely areas where pedestrian collisions could occur. Specifically, making left turns in school zones could present risks to vulnerable pedestrians. In this post, we will focus on making a safe left tun in a school zone in the state of Illinois. We will delve into some background information about laws and regulations, some common challenges, and some real-life scenarios that you may encounter.
Understanding Illinois School Zone Laws
Before we get into some specific scenarios, lets talk about some of the regulations and laws relating to school zones in Illinois:
- Reduced Speed Limits: Like many other states, Illinois implements reduced speeds in school zones. Slower speeds allow drivers more time to react to pedestrian activity. These speed zones are strategically enforced where the risks of collisions are higher.
- No Passing: Generally, passing other vehicles in a school zone is prohibited, especially in areas where children are present.
- Crosswalks and Pedestrian Right of Way: It is important to exercise vigilance and caution around crosswalks. At crosswalks, pedestrians have the right of way and drivers should always yield to pedestrians in school zones.
Challenges of Left Turns in School Zones
Making a left turn is already a complex and potentially risky maneuver. In school zones, there are additional challenges and considerations to keep in mind. Let’s dive into some of these challenges:
- Pedestrian Activity: One obvious challenge of making a left turn in a school zone is the high amount of pedestrian activity. Drivers should look out for students walking or biking to school, as well as other pedestrians like parents dropping off their children.
- School Bus Stops: School buses can obstruct your view when making a left turn. In school zones, school buses will frequently stop to pick up and drop off students, so it is important for drivers to exercise patience and caution.
- Limited Visibility: Aside from school buses, there are other obstructions like parked cars that could obstruct visibility in school zones.
Safety Tips for Making Left Turns in Illinois School Zones
With these challenges in mind, drivers could benefit from some helpful tips to stay as safe as possible when making a left turn in a school zone:
- Obey Speed Limits: Posted speed limits should always be obeyed in school zones. If there is congestion and cars are constantly stopping and starting, it may be best to drive even lower than the posted limit to allow for more reaction time.
- Signal Early and Clearly: It is vital that other drivers and pedestrians are aware of your intentions in a school zone. You should signal early, but do not assume that other people are aware of your signal. Always proceed cautiously.
- Scan for Pedestrians: Even if foot traffic seems light, it is important to scan for pedestrians prior to executing your left turn. Pedestrians could be blocked by a car or other obstruction, so assume you may have to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.
- School Bus Awareness: Remember, when a school bus activates its stop sign and/or flashing lights, you must stop and wait. School buses make frequent stops, so be prepared to break when necessary.
- Ensure Intersection Clearance: When approaching the intersection at which you intend to make your left turn, scan for other traffic. Other drivers may be unaware of your intention to turn or may be distracted.
- Minimize Distractions: It is never safe to drive distracted, but it is even more crucial to avoid distractions in a school zone. Never use your phone or GPS in a school zone.
Instances Requiring Extra Caution
There are certain conditions where it may be beneficial to exercise extra caution when making a left turn in a school zone. Here are some instances where you may need to be extra careful:
- Pedestrians at Crosswalks: During lunch hours or transition periods, there could be high pedestrian activity in the crosswalks surrounding the school zone. If there is high pedestrian activity when you intend to make your left turn, you should take a second look at the crosswalks.
- Heavy Traffic: During morning hours or at dismissal, there may be heavy traffic surrounding the school zone. This is one of the most dangerous times of day to make a left turn in a school zone, so it is best to be extra defensive.
- Adverse Weather Conditions: It is always important to drive according to weather conditions. Icy or wet weather may require you to drive even slower than the posted speed limit.
- Unpredictable Child Behavior: Especially when there are young children in the area, pedestrians may be unpredictable. Keep an eye on pedestrians near the side of the road and be prepared to stop if they move into the street.
Navigating Left Turns in School Zones: Real-Life Scenarios
Lets talk more about some specific scenarios you may find yourself in when approaching and entering a school zone:
Scenario 1: The Morning Rush
When parents are dropping their children off at school, traffic will be extra heavy in school zone areas. It is best to extend your following distance in heavy traffic to give yourself more time to stop behind the car in front of you.
Scenario 2: Inclement Weather
Not only can icy or wet weather cause you to change your driving behavior, but other weather conditions like fog could affect your visibility. School zones already have low visibility due to bus activity and heavy traffic, so it may be best to reduce your speed in inclement weather.
Scenario 3: Unpredictable Child Behavior
We already mentioned how young children can be unpredictable, but even older children may choose to jaywalk or forget to look for traffic before crossing the street. Even before you make your left turn, you should drive with caution knowing that pedestrians could appear unexpectedly.
Left turns are particularly dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike. When you make a left turn, you should always signal your intentions, look for oncoming traffic, and be prepared to stop for pedestrians. In school zones, there are even greater risks that you will face when attempting a left turn given the high pedestrian activity and heavy traffic. Follow our safety tips and remember to drive defensively next time you make a left turn in a school zone.