New Delhi: ”Slow down-School ahead”, reads a sign outside a top private school in Bengaluru, which has converted the area outside its premises into a ‘Safe School Zone’ to ensure road safety for children and improve pedestrian access.
St Joseph’s High School in Bengaluru is among a few schools in five cities of the country where such zones have been set up on a trial basis.
A Safe School Zone includes designated roadways located near a school where additional care is needed due to an increase in school-related pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The zone extends up to 300 feet from the border of the school property or at least 300 feet from a school crossing.
Standard ‘school speed limit’ signs mark the beginning of a school zone and ‘end school zone’ signs indicate the end of a school zone. The zones include only areas of active school use.
While the initiative is a popular road safety concept in countries like the United States, Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, and some parts of Europe, it is yet to take off in India.
Globally, schools fall under the vulnerable road user zone, and according to statistics, road traffic injuries account for 37-38 percent of deaths among 0 to 14-year-old category and 62-64 percent among children in the age group of 14-18. In India, there has been a consistent increase in the fatalities of school children below the age of 18 — 6.4 percent in 2017, 6.6 percent in 2018, and 7.4 percent in 2019 — as per official statistics of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
The numbers translate to the death of one child in India every 45 minutes in a road accident or 31 children losing their lives daily.
The ‘National Study on Safe Commute to School’, a report by SaveLIFE Foundation and Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India has pointed out that nearly 30 percent of children have witnessed a road crash during their travel to school, while 6 percent of them were involved in such accidents.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI) India has initiated and designed a Safe School Zone at Byculla’s Mirza Ghalib Road on a pilot basis.
”The initiative, started over three weeks ago, was aimed at identifying ways of providing students safer access to school. Mirza Ghalib Road in the city’s E-ward (Byculla) is home to two schools — Christ Church School and St Agnes High School. We initiated the trial using paint, barricades, and cones,” said Dhawal Ashar, Senior Manager, Sustainable Cities and Transport, WRI India.
”The design solutions we tested included demarcation using signage, road markings, providing designated areas for walking and waiting, multi-utility zones, including pick-up and drop-off areas, child-friendly spaces with playful elements, and a vibrant pedestrian crossing. The trial using low-cost material will aid in undertaking feedback from the neighborhood, before making it permanent on-ground,” he said.
A similar setup tested at St Joseph’s High School in Bengaluru was the result of multinational conglomerate 3M’s initiative, ‘Young Change Agents for Road Safety’ in partnership with Concern for Road and Pedestrian Safety (CoRPS) and United Way of Bengaluru.
”In most countries around the world, vehicle drivers are sensitive to vulnerable road users. Someone driving at very high speed would stop when he or she sees a pedestrian or cyclist crossing the road. Unfortunately, we lack that road etiquette in India. As mature citizens, we must realize that having a license to drive does not mean a license to harm,” Pawan Kumar Singh, Executive Director, Transportation and Electronics Business Group, 3M India, told PTI.
Among the schools where safe zones have been created or initiated so far are 116-year-old Fort High School, Chamrajpet in Bengaluru; NP Boys Senior Secondary School in Delhi’s Mandir Marg; Jnana Prabodhini Prashala, Silver Crest School in Pune and a school in Gurugram.
The stakeholders on board plan to take the initiative to at least 100 schools across the country next year, before proposing it to the government to make it a full-fledged programme.
”We involve the students by getting their inputs on how their school zones could be made safer with respect to road safety. We then try to translate their suggestions with minimum changes on ground, and our global experience and expertise. All physical enhancements and installations are carried out through CSR,” Singh said.
Chetan Umapathy, Programme Manager at CoRPS, explained that under the programme, students start with a safety audit around their schools to ascertain the problems such as potholes.
”They then take a video simulation module where they view the problems of the road through a driver’s perspective. They plot problem areas or mark safe zones around their schools on maps and suggest other measures such as signage or speed breakers in appropriate points,” he said.
These inputs are implemented using safety techniques such as raised pavement markers, road studs, fluorescent reflective signages, and reflective bollards among others, Umapathy added.
According to KK Kapila, President Emeritus, International Road Federation (IRF), the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs needs to include School Safety Zone as one of the components of the Smart Cities Mission.