When it comes to traffic safety around schools, Pierce County is below average.
A national study conducted by data analytics company Zendrive gave Pierce County a C-minus grade and ranked it the fifth worst county out of 39 counties in Washington state for speeding, hard braking, excessive acceleration and phone use while driving around schools.
The study graded 332 Pierce County schools for traffic safety. The schools with the most dangerous drivers were:
Cascade Christian Schools - Frederickson Elementary
Woodland Elementary (Puyallup School District)
Waller Road Elementary (Puyallup School District)
Rogers High School (Puyallup School District)
Learning Support (Franklin Pierce School District)
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The schools with the safest drivers in the area were:
Sumner Middle School (Sumner-Bonney Lake School District)
North Star Elementary (Bethel School District)
Reed Elementary (Tacoma Public Schools)
Columbia Crest A - STEM Academy (Eatonville School District)
Cascade Christian Schools - Puyallup Elementary
Out of four community types (rural, suburb, city and town), all five Pierce County schools with the most dangerous drivers were located in the suburbs.
School pickup and drop-off times were the most dangerous times of day for students out on the streets, with risky driving behavior increasing from 7 to 8 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m.
What do the findings mean?
The study found that nationwide, there was no significant improvement in driver behavior from last year — in fact, a third of states saw an increase in bad driving behaviors.
But in Washington and Pierce County, there are some findings worth celebrating.
Washington as a whole is one of the safer states when it comes to driving habits, scoring a B and ranking No. 14 out of 50 states.
“I think Washington has been a leader in safe streets for a long time,” said Noah Budnick, data practice and policy director for Zendrive. He cited the state’s effort to implement Safe Routes to School programs in local jurisdictions.
Pierce County also saw improvement overall.
“In 2017, Pierce County got a D grade for traffic safety around its schools. In 2018, the grade went up to a C-minus, so there was a slight improvement. That means there was a little less distracted driving, speeding and aggressive driving around each of the county’s schools,” Budnick said.
Local transportation professionals say that could be in part due to the lengths communities and jurisdictions have gone to make pedestrians and bikers more visible to the eyes of drivers.
“I am really excited by the momentum we’ve seen in Tacoma,” said Liz Kaster, manager for active transportation for the Puyallup Watershed Initiative (PWI).
PWI is a nonprofit that works to address transportation, education, public health and other issues in Western Washington as the area adapts to increased growth. Kaster has spent the last eight years “working with communities across the Northwest to make it safe, easy, and fun to walk, bike, skateboard and take transit.”
In October 2015, a string of incidents involving students being hit by cars was the impetus for creating a Safe Routes to School plan in Tacoma. Analysis conducted by PWI showed that a child is hit by a car every eight days while walking or biking in Tacoma. Students at low-income schools are four times more likely to walk to school and more likely to be involved in accidents.
A Tacoma Safe Routes to School plan formed in 2017, with Lister, Blix, Stanley elementary schools and First Creek Middle School being the first to see changes this year.
“It’s really about putting the funds where they’re most needed,” Kaster said.
There’s more work to be done. In 2017, 358 people were hit by cars while walking or biking in Pierce County, according to the PWI.
Zendrive launched a nationwide #FundMyStreets campaign this year to address the issue, partnering with Uber, Lyft, Lime and other transportation companies to offer a $50,000 grant to communities that show why their school needs safety improvements.
The application for the grant can be found at go1.zendrive.com/fundmystreets. The deadline to apply ends Dec. 10. The winner will be announced in January.
More cities are working to implement Safe Routes to School programs, including Puyallup. Three of the five schools considered “the worst” for dangerous driving behavior in Zendrive’s study were in the Puyallup School District.
The city, in partnership with the Puyallup School District and Cascade Christian Schools, is in the middle of assessing which schools are the most in need for improved walking routes.
“I’m excited to see Puyallup doing a lot of work,” Kaster said.
City leaders are moving those projects up on their priority lists after a group of parents brought up concerns about safety for students walking to Ferrucci Junior High School earlier this year. Zendrive gave the school a B-plus for driver safety, falling full letter grade from last year’s A-plus grade, an indication that drivers are becoming less responsible.
The city received a $300,000 grant to complete safety improvements to Ferrucci, but it was delayed. The city is moving ahead with it with money from the general fund.
“The project was considered important enough to forgo the grant to get the project built,” said Rob Andreotti, Puyallup public works director.
The project is expected to start this January and be completed in 45 days.
Educating the public
This is the second year Zendrive, based out of San Francisco, conducted its School Safety Snapshot study.
The company put the study together in an effort to educate people about the dangers students face walking to school. Traffic crashes are the No. 1 cause of injury death for school-aged students, according to a 2016 study by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The way that we developed the grades was by looking at the risky driving behaviors that are most likely to contribute to crashes,” Budnick said.
By partnering with app developers, the company collected risky driving behavior data through smartphones within a quarter-mile of 125,703 schools across the country. The study took place over April 2018 and compared schools in all 50 states and Washington D.C.
“In all, we looked at 10.5-billion miles of data, driven by 9.1-million anonymous drivers, who took 1-billion trips over the one month study,” the report stated.
The study ranked the safest and least safest schools nationwide, statewide and county-wide, handing out letter grades from A to F.